Fokker F-VIIa/3mPan Americans first service airplane (the term airliner had not yet come into use) was a model of one of the most important series of commercial aircraft produced during the first decade following the end of World War I and the beginning of air transport. The Fokker F-VIIa/3m was the first three-engined version of the single-engined F-VII, which had first flown in April 1924 and had entered service with the famous Dutch airline, K.L.M., on 1 July of that year.
The basic method of Fokker construction was to construct a welded tubular steel frame fuselage, and cover this with plywood or fabric, while the thick wing was built entirely of wood. This latter was the best available that combined strength with light weight, the Dutch factory preferring Lithuanian birch. As was customary at the time, with engines normally attached to the front end of the fuselage or hung on the wings, power plants varied, but the first F-VII had one Rolls-Royce Eagle engine. The aircraft weighed a little over 21/2 tons, fully loaded, and cruised at about 85 mph. Napier Lion engines added about 10 mph to the speed.
The F-VIIa, with Bristol Jupiter engines, was a cleaned up version, with neater landing gear and rounded wingtips, and the 480 hp engine permitted a speed of up to 118 mph, and more than 11/2 tons additional gross weight. Then, while on a visit to the U.S.A., Anthony Fokker sent word back to the factory in Amsterdam to produce a three-engined version, so as to enter the Ford Reliability Trials competition. Powered by three Wright Whirlwind engines, with an all-up weight of 8800 lb. (almost 41/2 tons) the aircraft was an immediate success.By this time, Fokker had founded the Atlantic Aircraft Corporation in May 1924, and this became the Fokker Aircraft Corporation, based at Hasbrouck Heights, in New Jersey. At first the aircraft were built in Europe, then the wings were imported into the U.S., and finally the whole aircraft was built in New Jersey. By the time Pan American became interested, the F-VIIa/3m had fine credentials. Entering service with K.L.M. in the summer of 1926, it had been used on several record-breaking long distance flights, including the Maitland-Hegenberger California-Hawaii "first" the Ford-sponsored Byrd Arctic Expedition, and the Kingsford-Smith trans-Pacific flight in the summer of 1928. It had put up some impressive performances for K.L.M., with special flights to Batavia (now Jakarta) in impressive demonstrations of reliability, and it had also been selected by a group of Philadelphia citizens to operate the Philadelphia Rapid Transit Service, or P.R.T. Line, during the latter half of 1926, to mark the Sesquicentennial (150th) anniversary of the United States by a service to Washington. The U.S.-built version was known as the Fokker Trimotor.
P.R.T. 's chief engineer was Andre Priester, and when Juan Trippe obtained the Fokkers, he obtained the services of Priester too. The F-VIIa/3m's life with Pan American was brief, but the aircraft was an undoubted success, especially in Europe. Including the finest of the series, the higher-powered, faster, and heavier F-VIIb/3m, 170 of the 600 airline aircraft in Europe in 1933 were Fokkers, and most of these were exported to foreign countries. By comparison, in that year, there were 114 Junkers, of which 70 were used in Germany.
Fokker F-10The first Fokker F-10 was produced in April 1927 as an enlarged version of the successful F-VII series of tri-motored commercial airliners. Its 425 hp Pratt & Whitney Wasp engines, with twice the power of the Wright Whirlwinds in the F-VII, permitted a 12-passenger load instead of eight. At this time Fokker aircraft were receiving much favorable publicity from some notable achievements. F-VIIb's were used by such famous flyers as Admiral Byrd, Sir Hubert Wilkins, and Amelia Earhart, while the first crossing from California to Hawaii, by Maitland and Hegenberger, and of the Pacific Ocean, by Charles Kingsford-Smith and his crew, were also made by Fokker tri-motors of the same type.
The airlines must have been impressed also by the fact that Fokkers were close to becoming the standard commercial aircraft in Europe, and the Dutch airline particularly, echoing the national pride of the factory which built them, set up some impressive performances on its long route to the Dutch East Indies. Thus the Fokker F-10A was chosen by Western Air Express for its showcase experimental airline in California, sponsored by the Guggenheim Fund, and Pan American soon followed suit, ordering a dozen aircraft on 20 June 1928.
They went into service early in 1929 on the main route from Miami to San Juan, via Cuba and Santo Domingo. Some were later transferred to Mexico and two were used on the significant sortie to the north, in cooperation with Boston-Maine Airways. But in little more than a year or two after their introduction, the Fokker company as a whole suffered a severe blow, when a T.W.A. F-10A crashed in Texas on 31 March 1931. This was bad enough, but one of the victims was Knute Rockne, the Notre Dame University football coach, and the effect on the nation could not have been worse had he been the President himself. The aircraft were grounded by the Department of Commerce on 4 May, five weeks after the accident, and although permitted to fly again within two weeks, and Fokkers continued to perform well in Europe and for the U.S. Army Air Corps, the suspicion remained that the wooden construction of the wing was suspect. This view coincided with the conviction that, like motor cars, aircraft should be built of metal. The era of the wooden airplane was at an end, at least in the U.S.