Anthony Fokker, the original Flying Dutchman

Anthony Fokker was described as the first man to make a million dollars in aviation (cited in Flying Magazine May 1940). Ernie met Fokker, in Netherlands, perhaps on August 6, 1919. 

Fokker had used the BMW IIIa engine in his most successful fighter of World War I, and he wanted to continue to use it after the war. During the war, Fokker was required by the German military to manufacture his aircraft in Schwerin, Germany, rather than Netherlands. As the war was coming to an end, Fokker smuggled parts and engines for hundreds of planes to Netherlands. He was able to resume manufacturing from Netherlands after the war.

According to the story Ernie told about their meeting, Fokker was having some trouble with tuning the BMW engine and his mechanics could not fix it. He called BMW to "send your best man" to come and make it work. When Ernie showed up, Fokker began giving him a hard time, saying that they had sent "a kid." Ernie stood his ground and asked simply for an hour to work on the problem. If he could not fix it within that time, he would just leave. Ernie was able to fix the problem and Fokker was satisfied. 

Here is what we know: when Ernie finished his work, a certificate from the N.V. Dutch Fokker Aircraft Factory documenting his work was prepared, dated September 24, 1919. It confirmed that Ernie was sent by BMW to tune the engines so they could run using Dutch fuel. The certificate concludes saying that he "has solved this problem to our satisfaction". The certificate also gives the dates he worked on this task at Fokker: August 6 to September 22, 1919. There is also an entry in Ernie's Militär-Paß (green) booklet, page 17, under a section labeled Meldungen und Beurlaubungen (Messages and Furloughs), that places him in Holland from 1 August 1919 to 1 November 1919. This order was dated 22 July 1919.

It is curious that Ernie was still under German military command after the war ended. The reason was that Ernie was a specialist in a high-tech industry. Germany was not able to maintain its aircraft industry within its own borders, but did maintain its expertise in aviation by sending its experts abroad to work in other countries. It was in the national interest of Germany to insure that men like Ernie maintained their technical expertise.

The time that Ernie was in Holland coincided closely with the ELTA Air Show (Dutch: Eerste Luchtvaart Tentoonstelling Amsterdam, English: First Aviation Exhibition Amsterdam), which ran from August 1 to September 12, 1919. This was one of the most important early aviation shows in Europe. The number of people who attended is unknown but estimates run as high as 1,000,000. 

Immediately following the conclusion of ELTA, Fokker moved his manufacturing into two of the exhibition halls that had been set up for ELTA, thus creating "the largest aircraft manufacturing plant of the 1920s and early 1930s". ELTA "directly led to the creation of two major aerospace players: the airline KLM and the N.V. Nederlandsche Vliegtuigenfabriek Fokker."

As an aside, Fokker was not a great deal older than Ernie (Ernie was 22 in 1919, Fokker was 29) and he had taken quite a bit of guff from the German military because of his young age. According to one story, when Fokker first demonstrated his synchronized machine gun, officers watching declared that they doubted that Anthony could have invented it, saying more-or-less: "Did you invent this yourself, Herr Fokker, or was it your father?" This treatment he received may have suggested to Fokker a way of dealing with this other boy-genius who showed up when he called for a mechanic.

Part of the Fokker story Ernie told was recorded during remarks Ernie gave at the Bavarian Club, in Philadelphia, on his 88th birthday. As Ernie explained, Fokker needed Ernie because the BMW IIIa engine that had been working just fine in Germany would not work with the Dutch fuel. According to what Ernie said in his remarks to the Bavarian Club, the German gasoline was of an inferior grade, so when the engine was brought to Holland and given better fuel, it would not work properly.

Finally, it is important to note that Anthony Fokker was widely known as "The Flying Dutchman" long before Ernie was given that nickname.

☞ photo of Anthony Fokker -- EBC. The appearance of Fokker, the suit, collar, tie, helmet, goggles, all are similar to an image appearing in a photo take of him at ELTA, in 1919. 

☞ video of Ernie talking about Fokker -- EBC.

Fokker story

Mark Taylor,
Apr 24, 2011, 4:39 PM
Mark Taylor,
Jun 2, 2010, 1:04 PM
Mark Taylor,
Apr 24, 2011, 4:39 PM