Fokker F.VII/3m ‘Southern Cross’ replica VH-USU (c/n SCA-28) at Avalon, VIC in 1997 (David C Eyre)
Country of origin:
Three 179 kw (240 hp) Wright J-5B Whirlwind seven-cylinder air-cooled radial engines
- Wingspan: 22.1 m (72 ft 8 in)
- Length: 14.3 m (47 ft 6 in)
- Height: 3.88 m (12 ft 9 in)
- Wing area: 69 m² (742 sq ft)
- Max speed: 195 km/h (122 mph)
- Cruising speed: 160 km/h (100 mph)
- Service ceiling: 4,700 m (15,420 ft)
- Normal range approx: 885 km (550 miles)
- Max range with max fuel of 4,724 litres (1,040 Imp gals):
- 6,700 km (4,187 miles)
- Empty weight: 2,145 kg (4,730 lb)
- Loaded weight: 3,592 kg (7,920 lb)
Probably the most famous aircraft in Australia, the Fokker F.VII series was designed originally by Anthony H G Fokker as a single-engine, high-wing, cantilever monoplane at a time when other airliners in the world were adaptations of World War I biplanes. The concept of welded steel tube fuselage and tail surfaces, which had been part of all Fokker designs for some time, together with a one-piece plywood-covered wing, was used.
The Fokker F.VIIA model appeared in 1920 powered by a 336 kw (450 hp) Bristol Jupiter engine. In about 1923 the Wright Whirlwind radial engine of 149 kw (200 hp) was offered on the civil market, and Fokker fitted three to the F.VII. This model was known as the F.VIIA/3m. A later variant built solely as an airliner with a longer wingspan became the F.VIIB/3m, wingspan being increased from 19.81 m (65 ft) to 21.94 m (72 ft).
Anthony Fokker installed three Whirlwind engines on an existing F.VIIA airframe and, after completion, it was dismantled and sent to the United States where it made a demonstration tour to show the reliability of the aircraft with three engines. Interest in the design was shown by a number of organisations, including the United States Army, and an initial order was placed for three examples, to be known as the Fokker C-2. A production line was set up in the United States for production of the type for the American market. Shortly after an order was placed for three for the United States Navy as the TA-1 (later RA-1), and further orders were received.
Henry Ford bought the prototype three-engined example and made it available to Commander Richard E Byrd for his 1926 North Pole flight, the aircraft being named ‘Josephine Ford’. This aircraft was later retired to the Ford Museum at Dearborn in Michigan where it has survived. Ford’s company went on to build a tri-motor of similar configuration known as the Ford Trimotor.
In 1926 the Australian Artic explorer, George Hubert Wilkins (later Sir), ordered a long-wing tri-motor for his 1926 expedition. He obtained backing from Detroit financiers and the ‘Detroit Daily News’ for an arctic flight based at Point Barrow in Alaska. Both this aircraft, named ‘Detroiter’, and a single-engined variant, ‘Alaskan’, were built in Holland but when they arrived in the United States were given manufacturer’s serials in the 600 series, which were American-built aircraft, ‘Alaskan’ having Fokker construction No 4909 and US construction No 601. In any event, both aircraft were damaged in accidents early in the expedition and were placed in storage at Fairbanks in Alaska.
George Wilkins returned again early in 1927 with two Stinson biplanes and used these alongside the one airworthy Fokker. Later they were shipped back to Seattle, Washington State, where they were offered for sale. The tri-motor ‘Detroiter’ was obtained by Captain (later Squadron Leader and later again Sir) Charles Kingsford Smith in Seattle, who planned a crossing of the Pacific Ocean from the USA to Australia. It was repaired by the Boeing Aircraft Company and new 164 kw (220 hp) J-5B Whirlwind engines were installed. The Fokker ‘Alaskan’ was returned to the USA where it was repaired and placed in the Liberty Memorial Museum in Bismarck, North Dakota.
In order to publicise the Pacific flight, Kingsford Smith had extra fuel tanks installed. Five attempts were made during 1927-1928 on the world’s non-refuelled endurance record of 52 hours and 22 minutes in the Fokker F.VIIA/3m but the best time achieved was 50 hours and 40 minutes. Based in San Francisco. California, the first attempt was made on 3 December 1927, the further attempts being made on 4, 8 and 18 December, then 17 January 1928.
Attempts were then made to obtain backing for the Pacific flight, and eventually G Allan Hancock, an oil tycoon, backed the flight. Kingsford Smith and his crew of Charles Ulm, Jim Warner, and Harry Lyon left Oakland airport, San Francisco, at 8.45 am on 31 May 1928 and arrived at Brisbane, QLD at Eagle Farm airport at 10.13 am on 11 June after a total elapsed time of 83 hours and 11 minutes. For the flight the aircraft ‘Southern Cross’ carried the American civil registration ‘1985’.
On 4 July 1928 the aircraft (c/n 4954) was issued with Certificate of Registration G-AUSU [No 210] to C E Kingsford Smith and C T P Ulm of Sydney, NSW. The registration lapsed 12 months later. On 16 April 1931 it was registered to Australian National Airways Ltd of Sydney, Kingsford Smith’s airline, and it became VH-USU.
On 13 July 1931 it was again registered to C E Kingsford Smith and C T P Ulm; and two months later to C E Kingsford Smith alone. It subsequently made the first aerial crossing of the Tasman Sea between Australia and New Zealand on 10/11 September 1928 in a time of 14 hours 25 minutes, flying from Sydney to Christchurch. It eventually completed five of these flights, on each occasion touring New Zealand on barnstorming expeditions. It was during one of these flights that the well known act of bravery was performed by the co-pilot, Captain (later Sir) Patrick Gordon (P G) Taylor, when the right engine had to be shut down and he climbed out on the wing strut in flight with a thermos bottle and made six transfers of oil from the right to the left engine.
Other notable flights were made, including an attempt to fly to the United Kingdom in March 1929. This led to the ‘Coffee Royal’ incident in 1929. During that year the ‘Southern Cross’ did in fact fly to the United Kingdom with the registration VH-USU. Designated Fokker F.VIIA/3m, this aircraft actually differed in a number of details from the actual production model. Following this flight it was flown across the Atlantic from Baldonnel in Ireland to New York via Newfoundland, on this occasion the crew being Kingsford Smith, Dutchman Evert Van Dyk as co-pilot, New Zealander John W Stannage as radio operator, and Capt Patrick Saul of the Irish Free State Air Force as navigator. It was later shipped to Australia where it was modified to carry 16 passengers.
The aircraft operated from Mascot, NSW with Kingsford Smith’s airline, Australian National Airways, alongside the airline’s Avro 10s, with occasional barnstorming tours, including those to New Zealand mentioned. On 13 September 1935 it was sold to the Commonwealth of Australia for long-term placement in a museum. Its last flight was on 18 July 1935 when Kingsford Smith flew the ‘Southern Cross’ to RAAF Richmond, NSW for the official hand-over ceremony. It was then dismantled and stored. It was assembled and shown on a number of occasions around Australia, on one occasion being placed on display in Sydney’s Hyde Park. It was finally put on display in 1958 at Eagle Farm Airport, QLD in a specially built building, where it may be seen today.
Over 250 examples of the Fokker F.VII were built, a number being operated in Dutch New Guinea by KNILM, the Royal Netherlands East Indies Airline. Four F.VIIB/3ms powered by 160 kw (215 hp) Armstrong Siddeley Lynx engines (H-NAFA to H-NAFD – c/ns 5069 to 5072) left Schiphol in Amsterdam on their delivery flight on 13 September 1928 but only two arrived. H-NAFA and H-NAFB entered service, the other two being damaged during the delivery flight. Further examples were obtained, these being powered by Gnome-Rhone Jupiter engines.
One was obtained by Ray Parer in Papua New Guinea to replace his Fokker F.III, which had been destroyed in a crash. The Fokker F.VII VH-UQF² (c/n 4845 – ex PH-ACR, H-NACR, RR21) arrived in Port Moresby on the vessel ‘SS Le Maire’ on 18 July 1931. It was a single-engine model and had accommodation for nine passengers, being powered by a 313 kw (420 hp) Bristol Jupiter VI engine which had been salvaged from another aircraft. This aircraft had previously seen service on the Brussell – Antwerp – Croydon (England) route and had a payload of 635 kg (1,400 lb).
VH-UQ² was registered to Pacific Aerial Transport Ltd of Wau on 21 August 1931 and entered service in October on the goldfields routes. At one stage the wing was removed from the aircraft for repairs and was damaged when the lifting device suffered a problem. A month was taken to effect repairs. On 27 July 1935 the aircraft crashed on the Logui track near Salamaua and had to be repaired at the site of the accident. Ownership was transferred to Mandated Airlines Ltd on 16 October 1936, this company in the previous month taking over PAT, its aircraft and staff. The F.VII continued in service for another six months and was then withdrawn from use in March 1937, being scrapped.
Licence production of the F.VII took place in Czechoslovakia by Avia, in Belgium by SABCA, in Italy and in the United States. In 1979 the Southern Cross Museum Trust, with Australian Federal Government assistance, built a flying full-sized replica of the ‘Southern Cross’, re-designed to take advantage of modern technology. Fitted with three 224 kw (300 hp) Jacobs P-755 A2 seven-cylinder radial engines, it has been based in South Australia and has been flown to avaiation events. However, it was seriously damaged in an accident when the undercarriage collapsed and the wing was badly damaged.
The aircraft was placed in the care of the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society (HARS) based at Albion Park, NSW. Major work was carried out to rebuild the wing and the undercarriage, and to install three rebuilt nil-hours engines. As its custodian, HARS maintains and operates it for air displays and special events.
A further non-flying scale model of the ‘Southern Cross’ was also built for a television series on the life of Kingsford Smith and this model has been placed in a museum.