Anthony Fokker

Dutch History; Anthony Fokker, the Haarlem mechanic who changed the face of WWI.

Anthony Fokker, also known as the Flying Dutchman, built his first plane in 1910 and taught himself to fly. During WWI he introduced the gear system that made it possible to fire a machine gun through the propeller arc without hitting the blades.

Anthony Fokker, The Flying Dutchman.

Anthony Fokker was born in Blitar (then Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia), to Herman Fokker, a Dutch coffee plantation owner.  When Fokker was four, the family returned to the Netherlands and settled in Haarlem.

Fokker was not a studious boy and did not complete his high school education. However, he showed an early interest in mechanics and preferred making things, playing with model trains and steam engines, and experimenting with model aeroplane designs.


© A.H.G. Fokker (Anthony Fokker) in zijn Spin, plaats en jaartal onbekend [omstreeks 1911].

Fokker’s first interest in flight stemmed from Wilbur Wright‘s exhibition flights in France in the summer and fall of 1908. In 1910, aged 20, Fokker was sent by his father to Germany to receive training as an automobile mechanic at Bingen Technical school, but his interest was in flying, so he transferred to the Eerste Deutsche Automobil-Fachschule in Mainz. That same year Fokker built his first aircraft “de Spin” (“the Spider”), which was destroyed by his business partner who flew it into a tree. He gained his flying certificate in his second “Spin” aircraft, which shortly thereafter was also destroyed by the same business partner, prompting Fokker to end their cooperation.

In his own country of the Netherlands, he became a celebrity by flying around the tower of the Grote Kerk St Bavo in Haarlem on 1 September 1911, with the third version of the “Spin” aeroplane.


© Noord-Hollands Archief – Noord-Hollands Archief / Kennemerland, NL-HlmNHA_540464900

In 1912, Fokker moved to Johannisthal near Berlin where he founded his first own company, Fokker Aeroplanbau.

World War One.

At the outbreak of World War I the German government took control of the factory. Fokker remained as director and alleged designer of many aircraft for the Imperial German Army Air Service (Luftstreitkräfte), including the Fokker Eindecker and the Fokker Dr.I, the triplane made famous in the hands of aces such as Manfred von Richthofen (the Red Baron). In all, his company delivered about 700 military planes to the German air force as well as supplying the German navy and Austria-Hungary.

Fokker himself was a skilled pilot, demonstrating his aircraft on many occasions. On 13 June 1915, Fokker demonstrated the new Eindecker (monoplane) at Stenay in the German 5th Army Sector in front of the German Crown Prince. Fokker worked closely with an accomplished military pilot, Otto Parschau, to bring the Eindecker into military use and on this occasion, both men demonstrated the aircraft. Max Immelmann, later to become a high-scoring Flying Ace with the Eindecker, commented in a letter written shortly after this event on 25 June 1915 that:

“Fokker, especially, amazed us with his skill”. [1]

Synchronization Gear.


© By Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-2006-0002 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de,

A synchronization gear is attached to the armament of a single-engine tractor-configuration aircraft so it can fire through the arc of its spinning propeller without bullets striking the blades.

A lot of design flaws and issues were made during the construction of this special gear. It wasn’t until Fokker developed a  pushrod control mechanism, Gestängesteuerung, which allowed the aircraft’s forward-firing machine gun to fire only when the propeller was out of the line of fire. As incorporated into the famous Fokker Eindeckeraeroplane, its use directly led to a phase of German air superiority known as the Fokker Scourge during world war one.

End of the War.

After the war’s end, the terms of the Treaty of Versailles forbade Germany to build any aircraft or aircraft engines. The treaty singled out the aeroplane Fokker D.VII for destruction, the only aircraft to be named in the treaty. In 1919 Fokker returned to the Netherlands and started a new aircraft company, the Nederlandse Vliegtuigenfabriek (Dutch Aircraft Factory), predecessor to the Fokker Aircraft Company. There he started designing and making civil aircraft.


© Anthony Fokker in his glider, 1922. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

In 1926, Fokker moved to the United States. Here he established the North American branch of his company, the Atlantic Aircraft Corporation.

He was the maker of the Fokker F-VII aeroplane Josephine Ford (named after the granddaughter of automobile magnate Henry Ford), which Lieutenant Commander Richard E. Byrd and Machinist Floyd Bennett flew over the North Pole on 9 May 1926.


[1] van Wyngarden, G. Early German Aces of World War 1. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 2006.

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