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Meet the Fokker: 1929

Meet the Fokker: 1929

Sept. 29, 1929. Washington, D.C. "Fokker F-32 transport plane at Bolling Field." Note unusual back-to-back engine arrangement (and mechanic stationed aft to keep people from being pureed). National Photo glass negative. View full size.


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One lucky Fokker

...was the centerpiece of a Los Angeles filling station through the '30s. The F-32 was purchased from Western Air Express and painted in Mobilgas colors. Fuel islands were put under the broad wings. The ship lit up at night, and the gas monkeys could fire up the forward engines, to the delight of customers.
Bob's Air Mail Service Station

Tony Fokker's personal F-32, which he'd had kitted out as a plush flying home and office, wasn't so lucky. His business and the country's went to hell at about the same time, and he had to sell the plane. The fuselage ended up in West Virginia as a house trailer, and in the great Ohio Valley floods of 1937, even that was swept away.

It's anybody's guess how long Bob's Air Mail plane could have lasted in the elements. The F-32s were all wood except for their chrome-moly fuselage framing. (edit: The plane was scrapped in 1939.)

Big Boy!

Here’s a look at how massive the F-32 was. In 1931, an earlier Fokker model, an F-10 Trimotor, crashed near Kansas City, Kansas, killing all eight people on board including Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne.

When planes had mudflaps

Those were the days! Seriously, though, some people thought it worth walking across a muddy field and through a prop wash (must have been fun in cold weather or rain), then putting up with what must have been an incredible vibration and din and a roller coaster ride for several hours.

Windshields plus French Farmans

The forward-slanted windshield was fashionable for passenger aircraft in this era. The slanted winshield helped solve the problem of lighted control panel instruments reflecting off the normally backward-sloping windshield at night, but it turned out that the forward-sloping windshield would reflect ground lights instead, especially during landings. Eventually the drag factor and the introduction of tinted plexigas in the 1930s put paid to this idea of forward sloping windshields.

As for the odd four-engine arrangement, the French were still using it with their massive Farman 220 series of airliners and bombers in the 1930s. One of them, the converted airliner "Jules Verne", was the first Allied bomber to bomb Berlin in 1940!

Standard Fokker Construction

Neat tandem rudder. You can see the cables for the rear control surfaces piercing the fuselage just behind the 'Universal Air Lines System' logo.

The Baltimore Sun, September 22, 1929.

Largest U.S. Land Plane Is Tested

Thirty-Passenger Fokker One of the Five Ordered For Transcontinental Air Service.

The largest commercial airplane ever built in American and the largest land plane in the world was tested publicly last week, with results highly gratifying to its designer, Anthony H.G. Fokker.

This huge plane is the first of a group of five ordered by the Universal Aviation Corporation for use in its transcontinental services. It has accommodations for thirty passengers in day flights and for night flying can be converted into an aerial Pullman with berths for sixteen. Adequate facilities for the comfort of passengers in the way of lavatories, serving pantries and the like have been provided.

From tip to tip of the wind the span is 99 feet, giving a wing area of 1,350 square feet. Its length is 69 feet 10 inches and its height is 16½ feet. The weight empty is 13,800 pounds; fully loaded, 22,500 pounds. The power plant consists of four air-cooled engines, each developing 525 horse power. The engines are arranged in tandem, fore and aft on each side of the cabin. For day flying the plane carries 400 gallons of fuel and 40 gallons of oil, giving it a range of 480 miles. As a night plane, the fuel capacity is 700 gallons, with the increased range to 850 miles. The crew consists of two pilots, a radio operator, one day steward and two night stewards. …

In its general form of construction this plane, called the F-32, follows the standard Fokker methods. It has an all-wood veneer covered wing of the cantilever type, and all other structural parts of steel tubing.

Bolling Field

Everything you wanted to know about Bolling Field:

Also note the building across the river is very near what is now Nationals Park and part of the Navy Yard .

The Boeing 747 of its day

Although only ten were built and just two made it into scheduled service, the Fokker F-32 was the era’s largest successful passenger plane, with seats for 32 (including two under the cockpit). For 1930 it was quite advanced with two-way radio and two toilets. The push-me pull-me engine design (as such configurations were called later) was chosen to reduce drag from four engine nacelles to two. The rear engines however, as was mentioned, did not cool adequately and their propellers’ efficiency was affected seriously by the two up front. I said "successful" because in 1929 the Germans rolled out the massive, 12-engined Dornier DO-X, with the same push-me pull-me arrangement. Too many problems, however, kept it from the market.

Not the only design bug

Apart from the poor cooling on the rear engines, their props would also loose efficiency as they would turn in the wake of the forward prop and of all those struts. They would be quite noisy, too, for the same reason.

And propellers turning undernath a wing (rather than in front of one) also tend to decrease overall lift, especially at low speed. Not to mention that they skew the spanwise lift distribution, which would increase drag again.

But every design is a compromise. The designers had good reasons for what they did.
- They needed four engines for their power and for redundancy.
- Installing the 2 by 2 reduced adverse yaw if one engine failed.
- The nacelles could be suspended close to the struts.
- The engines were better accessible for maintenance.
- A high wing gets the fuselage closer to the ground overall - a boon when airport facilities consist only of a stool or pedestal.
- And so on.

Look how close they get to the turning(!) prop. Eeeek!!! That's asking for trouble (of the spattering sort), even with the watchdog in the white overall.


This aircraft was the first of the type built, constructor number 1201. It was also the first to crash, on 27 Nov 1929, just two months after this photo was taken. It crashed at Roosevelt Field while demonstrating a 3-engine takeoff. The second engine on the same side failed making it uncontrollable. There were only two injuries, no fatalities, but the craft was destroyed in the ensuing fire. This photo was taken only 16 days after the plane's first flight.


How about that aerodynamic windshield?! Good thing speed and fuel consumption weren't an issue then.

A four engine aircraft

built in Teterboro N.J. by Fokker America, not very successful from the engine placement, the rear engine could not be cooled properly, 10 were built, they cost $110,000 in 1929.

Universal Air Lines

Still lives on, in a manner of speaking, as a predecessor of American Airlines.

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