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Type F.VIIa
Type of aircraft
Country Netherlands
Date first flight 12 March 1925
Crew 2
number of passengers 8
Enginetype water-cooled Packard Liberty
420 hp

KLM and Van Lear Black

A total of 36 F.VIIa's was built by Fokker, and KLM built another four using spare parts supplied by Fokker plus used components from written-off aircraft. The full story of virtually all the 40 F.VIIa's is known.

KLM bought 11 F.VIIa's directly from Fokker. Most of them had uneventfull lives. A notable exception was the aircraft which American millionaire van Lear Black chartered from KLM, complete with crew, to fly him to Cairo.

Van Lear Black came from Baltimore, via London, to the Low Countries (Photo: Danny K. Blevins)

The purpose of the flight was to surprise a friend who was about to arrive in the Egyptian city onboard his yacht. Unhappily the millionaire joke failed. On arriving in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, van Lear Black had to pay a $250 fine for each person onboard the aircraft as prior permission to land had not been requested.

On top of this, he found his hotel so uncomfortable that he about faced there and then. The aircraft of course was not to blame. In fact van Lear Black was enthusiastic about it and he remained a KLM customer.

When he heard of KLM plans to fly from Amsterdam to Batavia, he told the airline that he would like to make the trip. As money was no problem to van Lear Black, F.VIIa H-NADP was specially converted for the flight. Extra tanks for fuel and oil were installed and the cabin was brought up to a standard befitting a millionaire. All this was done in only 16 days.

Keepsake of the flight, click to enlarge (Photo Jan Michiels)

The flight departed from Waalhaven Airport

On 15 June 1927, H-NADP took-off from Schiphol for a successful hut not uneventful flight, in addition to some technical problems, there were monsoon rains, sandstorms and during the final part of the return journey, a particularly heavy thunderstorm.

KLM however was very proud about this first intercontinental charter flight which was also the first out-and-return flight between Holland and the Netherlands East Indies.

Van Lear Black and crew back in Amsterdam

glorious welcome

Fokker F.VIIa

Prototype of the F.VIIa

Fokker F.VIIa from the French company CIDNA

In the U.S. demonstrated Fokker the F.VIIa with a Hornet engine. Fokker also intended to take part of the Ford Reliability Tour, but a enginefailure forced him to make an emergencylanding on his way to Detroit

With this F.7a pilot Grase completed a flight from Rotterdam to Marseille in 6,5 hours

This F.7a was ordered by the Air Ministry for testing. Later the standard wing was replaced for a Monospar wing

Fokker F.VIIa Spider, owned by the Dutchess of Bedford

Fokker F.VIIa-3M in the Ford Reliability Tour

Building the wing off the F.VIIa

Building the wing off the F.VIIa

'The spider' of the Dutchess of Bedford

Fokker F.7a used for a aerial tour over Schiphol

Fokker F.7a used for a aerial tour over Schiphol

Op 30 december 1955 landde de Fokker F-VII-a op Schiphol. Dit toestel stond in het Aerodome naast de Spin, het eerste Fokker toestel

Improved interim type

On december 30 1955, a Fokker F-VII-a landed on Schiphol. This aircraft is used as a museumaircraft and is still exposed in the Aviodome. Adriaan Viruly was also present at that day.

The Fokker F.VIIa was the first airliner in the world with a air-cooled sterlingengine.

This type of Fokkers joined KLM's fleet in 1925. It could seat 8 passengers but was also used as freighter carrying 900 kilograms of cargo.

This plane was larger than his predecessor, the F.VII.

A number of technical improvements had also been made, one of which undoubtedly received a warm welcome from passengers: the cabins were now heated in winter.

Although the F.VII was series-built to the extent of five aircraft, both KLM and Fokker regarded the machines as prototypes. The aircraft were frequently modified, different types of engines were installed and tested, various forms of tail fin were tried, and the complicated undercarriage was simplified. Numerous other changes were also made which were not visible from the outside. Plesman, who tended to be outspoken rather than tactful, was not too happy about these experiments. He wanted ready-made aircraft capable of producing profits.

In a snide reference to Fokker's wartime activities, he once wrote to Fokker that "KLM is not a 'Versuchsanstalt'" (German for test center).

In fact Plesman's engineers experimented just as much as Fokker's, and both companies at Schiphol were working towards the same goal: to produce the best possible aeroplane. During the 'twenties, aircraft gradually became more sophisticated and complex,

Op 30 december 1955 landde de Fokker F-VII-a op Schiphol. Dit toestel stond in het Aerodome naast de Spin, het eerste Fokker toestel

In aircraft construction, the F.VII represented the transition from trial and error to a more scientific approach.


Fokker F.VIIa in the Aviodome at Schiphol

Fokker F.VIIa in the new Aviodome in Lelystad

Fokker F.VIIa in the new Aviodome in Lelystad

The days of Platz designing an entire machine all by himself were numbered.

and engineers with a higher standard of training were therefore required. This had already become evident when Rethel designed the F.VII. But Platz and Rethel did not make a good team: their personalities differed too much.

Platz dominated Rethel who had had a far better technical training. In the end this resulted in Rethel leaving Fokker in 1925 and joining Arado Flugzeugwerke in Germany.


Fokker had meanwhile hired a number of university-trained engineers who proved to be very successful. Like most people, Fokker had his good points and his bad, and a little-publicished good point was his ability to select the right man for the job.

The first university-educated engineer to join Fokker was Ir. Jan Roosenschoon who started at the Veere plant on 1 May 1922. Second was Ir. Marius Beeling who, on 26 March 1923, was appointed assistant to Rethel in Amsterdam.

Both appointees had studied mechanical engineering at Delft University. They had then gone for a further year to study aeronautics, and so had become the first Dutchmen to attain a degree in aeronautical engineering. The Dutch National Institute for Aeronautical Studies (RSL), now the NLR, National Air & Space Laboratory, which was responsible for awarding certificates of airworthiness, felt that it also should offer an opening for an engineer of academic level. This led to the Institute hiring Ir. Bertus Grasé who was both a graduate engineer and a pilot.

As Fokker wanted to avoid difficulties with Grasé as an employee of the RSL, he hired him also simply by offering him a better salary. Fokker never regretted this as Grasé proved to be outstanding both as an engineer and as a pilot.


The next graduate engineer to join Fokker was Ir. Bruno Stephan.

On completion of his studies, Stephan had begun his career by joining the Army Air Corps, but Fokker enticed him away by hiring him as deputy director.

Stephan and Grasé got on well together and cooperated on many occasions: Grasé was the pilot and demonstrated the aircraft - and Stephan took care of the commercial aspects. The same applied to Roosenschoon and Beeling. After first meeting at university, they became friends for life.

On reaching 80 years of age, Beeling began to write his biography describing his life as an aircraft designer.

When he needed to know some technical detail he would phone Roosenschoon and say "Well Jan, you should know: you designed it!" But the time he was referring to was 55 years earlier and both men had already been retired for 15 years.

In hiring these engineers, Fokker 'hit the bull's eye' with all four of them. Together they lifted aircraft development at Fokker from an instinctive feeling - or as Platz called it "Fingerspitzengefühl" - to a proper scientific level.


Fokker and his newly-hired staff were very conscious of the fact that the F.VII as designed by Rethel could be developed into something better.

Operational experience, numerous tests, modifications and trial installations had almost without exception, given good results. Everything confirmed that the basic design of the F.VII was wholly sound. And so without any contract from KLM or any other airline, Fokker ordered that the F.VII be redesigned as the F.VIIa. As Fokker himself was already very busy starting up his business in America, his own contribution was relatively small.

Now with a team of capable engineers, this was not too critical. It is not quite clear why the new model was designated F.VIIa and not F.VIII as would have been logical. Some historians believe it to be the result of superstition, seven being Fokker's lucky number. However as Fokker was not at all superstitious, this is a rather doubtful explanation.

A more likely possibility is that the F.VIIa did not differ from the F.VII sufficiently for a new number to be justified.


The fuselage for instance, with accommodation for eight passengers, was almost identical. The wing was different however, and so were the undercarriage and horizontal tailplane.

The angular, unaesthetic wing with ailerons protruding either side and fitted with horn balances, was replaced by a cleanly-shaped design with inset ailerons.

Grasë and Roosenschoon designed the new wing, and Platz suggested the inset ailerons. "Warum einfach wenn es auch kompliziert geht?" ("Why be simple when it can be done in a complicated way?") he said, meaning of course the exact opposite.

He always spoke German but had no trouble at all in understanding Dutch.

In fact Platz had already used inset ailerons in 1918 on the D.VIII fighter. But somehow Fokker did not like them. He greatly preferred the traditional ailerons with horn balances. On this occasion however the boss surrendered when he found that Platz had academic support for his proposal.


Manufacturing the inset ailerons was extremely simple. The wing, including the ailerons, was first built as a single unit. Then, after the wing had been covered with a plywood skin, the ailerons were simply sawn off. Following some rework of their leading edges, they were re-attached to the wing by hinges.

Redesign of the undercarriage was performed by Grasé. He replaced the complex F.VII arrangement with a simple main strut extending from each wheel directly up to the main spar. The struts were each braced by two streamlined tubes attached to the lower edge of the fuselage.

A number of rubber rings in the main strut absorbed the bulk of the shocks which unavoidably occurred


when taxiing over grass airfields. Concrete runways were still years away.

The new undercarriage not only confirmed the old saying that if it looks right, it probably is right - it also was much easier to design and make. Platz, who was in charge of the F.VIIa project, liked it very much.

The rather angular horizontal stabilizer of the F.VII was replaced by one of improved appearance with rounded tips. An important innovation was the provision for in-flight-adjustment of the stabilizer. This feature was not apparent from the outside except to those in the know such as the pilots who found it a great help in correctly trimming the aircraft.

First flight

First flight of the F.VIIa was on 12 March 1925. It is assumed that Grasé was the pilot.

Powerplant was a 420 hp water-cooled Packard Liberty engine. It is not clear why an American engine was chosen. Neither is it known why a water-cooled unit was chosen at a time when the airlines much preferred air-cooled engines which avoided the weight of the coolant system and its many attendant failures.

The F.VIIa engine mounting however allowed for easy replacement with an alternative engine. For publicity purposes, the name 'FOKKER' was painted on the fuselage and wing in large letters. The letter 'H' for Holland was painted on either side of the rudder. Also for publicity purposes some record flights were attempted, not all of them successfully.

Six weeks after the maiden flight, on 30 April 1925, Grasé tried to better the world altitude record with a 1000 kg useful load.

He was only partly successful as he beat the existing record of 5,751 meters by a French Farman Goliath, by only 20 meters.


This was less than half a percent more than the standing record and was not therefore promulgated.

Effort to beat the endurance records with 1000 kg and 1500 kg loads were more successful.

In the course of one flight, Grasé set new records for both loads with a time of 3 hours, 3 minutes and 30 seconds. Two days later Grasé demonstrated the F.VIIa at Schiphol before the press and invited guests.

According to the journalists, Grasé performed loops amd Immelmann turns with the greatest of ease - and he also showed that "the aircraft, just like other Fokkers, did not spin or sideslip when stalled, but remained fully controllable, nosed down a bit to pick up speed again and came back to its normal straight and level flying position.

This was demonstrated both with power off and power on. With power on, the aircraft came down like a parachute, nosed down and went into gliding flight."

Contract award

Undoubtedly, representatives from KLM were among the invited guests, but they did not need the demonstration to be convinced of the merits of the aircraft. They had already seen the F.VIIa on the drawing board and one month earlier, on 26 June 1925, KLM had ordered an aircraft at a price of 28,500 guilders.

The contract specified that the engine would be furnished by KLM, otherwise - as Plesman put it - Fokker will make a profit on the engine also. He was probably correct. After having flown for some time without a registration, the prototype F.VIIa was officially registered on 21 August 1925 as H-NACZ.

Shortly thereafter the aircraft, together with a three-engined version of the F.VIIa, was shipped to the United States. The plan was that both machines would take part in the Commercial Airplane Reliability Tour as organized by the Ford Motor company.


The tour, as its name implies, was not a race but a reliability contest.

For the prototype F.VIIa, things turned out rather differently however. En route to Detroit following the aircraft's first U.S. demonstration flight, an engine failure occurred which led to an emergency landing. The resulting damage was so extensive that the machine could not be repaired in time to participate in the contest.

What happened to the prototype after this is not known. Conceivably it and the 'Old Glory' aircraft belonging to the newspaper tycoon Hearst, were one and the same.

Supporting this possibility is the fact that, as far as is known, only two F.VIIa's went to the United States, and the identity of the other aircraft can be confirmed. It was the 'Alaskan', the fuselage of which is in a museum in West Fargo, North Dakota.

Uneventfull lives

A total of 36 F.VIIa's was built by Fokker, and KLM built another four using spare parts supplied by Fokker plus used components from written-off aircraft. The full story of virtually all the 40 F.VIIa's is known.

KLM bought 11 F.VIIa's directly from Fokker. Most of them had uneventfull lives. A notable exception was the aircraft which American millionaire van Lear Black chartered from KLM.

One of the F.VIIa's built by KLM ended up with the National Institute for Aeronautical Studies


(RSL) and was appropriately re-registered as PH-RSL.

This registration had earlier been allocated to a Fokker F.II also belonging to the Institute. When the name of the RSL was changed to the National Aviation Laboratory (NLL), the registration was accordingly modified to PH-NLL.

The aircraft was still in existence in 1960 and although there were plans to try to make it airworthy again, these came to nothing and the machine was broken up.

Princess Xenia

For the F.VIIa registered H-NADK, life became interesting after conclusion of its KLM career. In September 1927 this aircraft was sold to a Mr. McIntosh who baptised it 'Princess Xenia'. McIntosh had some ambitious plans and, prior to delivery he had the machine modified to undertake long distance flights.

On 16 September 1927, together with a Mr. Fitzmaurice, he took off from an airfield near Dublin for a transatlantic flight. After only a couple of hours flying, an exceptionally strong headwind forced them to return. Undeterred, McIntosh set himself a new target. On 15 November he departed on a London - Karachi return trip accompanied by the well-known Australian flyer Bert Hinkler, as co-pilot. They made Karachi, but on the way back had to make an emergency landing which extensively damaged the aircraft. A second attempt, which started 10 June 1928, also ended in failure. Third time lucky however.

Mr. Barnard, new owner of the aircraft, decided to attempt a return flight to Karachi.

With him as co-pilot was a Mr. Elliot, and the Duchess of Bedford as passenger.


They succeeded, although it took them several months as the result of an emergency landing in the desert, an engine change and other further unforeseen inconveniences. Back in England, the Duchess of Bedford decided to buy the F.VIIa.

She had a more powerful engine - a Bristol Jupiter - installed and changed the aircraft's name to 'The Spider'. The not-so-young lady was quite wealthy and was crazy about flying. She wanted a repeat of the London - Karachi return flight and hired Barnard and a Mr. Little as crew. This time the trip was largely uneventful and was notably quicker than the first round trip. On 10 April 1928 the Duchess took off again for an England - Capetown return flight. Then in 1931 The Spider visited 134 places in England. At each stop, joy rides were given and a Mr. John Tranum made parachute jumps from the aircraft. This attracted plenty of people and boosted the sale of tickets for joy rides. Next was another round trip, this time to India during which again many people had their first flight. In 1934 the Fokker was sold to Sir Bossabhor Bumwandwallah in Bombay. Clearly, this F.VIIa had a colourful existence before it was broken up in 1937.


As well as supplying F.VIIas to KLM, Fokker sold the type to a number of foreign airlines.

Seven F.VIIa's went to CIDNA in France, six to LOT in Poland, three to Balair in Switzerland, two to Malert (Magyar Légiforgalmi RT) in Hungary, two to Denmark for DDL which later bought a third (used) aircraft, and three to STAR in France.

Most of these aircraft served their airlines faithfully for many years during which time they underwent a series of modifications.


As Hamilton Standard ground-adjustable metal propellers became available, they were fitted.

Brakes were installed on the wheels, and tailskids were replaced by tail wheels. PH-ADZ had its engine replaced by a 500 hp Pratt & Whitney Wasp, and H-NAEB was the first F.VIIa to receive a fully-enclosed cockpit.

Pilots did not like it as they preferred to feel the slipstream. Although sliding windows overcame this criticism, it was soon found that the pilots left these closed: it was much more comfortable that way.


KLM's first F.VIIa was H-NACT.

After having performed its monotonous duty with the airline for many years, it came to an inglorious end when it was hit by a bomb at Schiphol in May 1940 at the time the Germans invaded Holland.

In the Dutch National Aviation Museum 'Aviodome' at Lelystad however, there is still an F.VIIa with H-NACT as its registration.

The aircraft is not the original KLM F.VIIa and never flew for the airline.


It is in fact one of the original fleet of Balair that was sold to Scandinavia. Here it changed hands several times until, in 1955, it was bought by Fokker and KLM and donated to the Aviodome.

The aircraft was flown (sic) to Holland and given a place of honor in the museum.