Friday, September 23, 2011

A Fokker in the Field

As of this posting, this photo is somewhat of a mystery to me. The photograph itself is small, and the image of the plane on it is thus smaller still, and unlike many vintage prints, the clarity just isn't there on this one. What's clear is that it is a Fokker F.VII taking off from an open field.

What isn't clear is whose trimotor this is. There appears to be an "N" on the tail, and the lettering on the fuselage appears to read "Coteal...", or something similar to that..

Click on the image to see it larger...lettering on the fuselage
seems to read "Coteal..." Could it be "Colonial"?
The paint scheme is a slight clue, as online research shows only one example of a Fokker painted with the angular design, that of early Pan American operations to Cuba, as seen in this 1927 photo from the University of Miami archives. (More information on this same image is on this Florida-related website.) Could my photo be the same plane, maybe with a later operator?

Anyone with a guess as to the answer to this little mystery is invited to comment below, or email me at airphotoservices at gmail dot com.

Sept 25th update! My friend Glen Tagami, one of the moderators over at Aviation Photographers of Southern California ( has pointed out an interesting angle related to my mention of Pan Am above.

A young banker-turned-airline entrepreneur named Juan Trippe had taken his inheritance money after his banker-father's untimely death, and tried to start an airline called Long Island Airways, using some surplus Jenneys. It had failed. With the passage of the Kelly Act of 1925 which made airmail contracts available to private companies, suddenly it appeared that there would be enough revenue to sustain a small airline operation, and with the help of a couple of well-to-do partners, Tripped formed Colonial Air Transport, and got the first airmail contract for the New York-Boston city pair, with the inaugural flight taking place on July 26, 1926. To service the route, Trippe picked up a pair of Fokker F.VII Trimotors. The mail guaranteed a regular cash flow, which then could be augmented with passengers. In 1927, Colonial inaugurated the first night passenger service in the U.S., again between New York and Boston.

As will often happen, though, disagreement arose between the venture's stockholders and Trippe's management team, a fight which led the stockholders to sell Colonial off, and it operated as a part of American Airlines until it was merged into Eastern Airlines in 1956; Trippe and crew were frozen out of the process. Now with cash from their portion of the sale, but no airline to operate, Trippe's group bought Aviation Corporation of the Americas and decided to bid on the airmail route from Havana to Key West, Florida. In 1928, they took this company and merged it with two other small carriers, Atlantic, Gulf and Caribbean Airways and Pan American Airways, keeping the name of the latter company for the new organization.

So what does this story have to do with our photo? Well, the fuzzy lettering can easily be made out to spell "Colonial", meaning that this image was taken in New England sometime in the 1926-27 timeframe, and this or the other F.VII Colonial operated went on to fly with Pan Am, retaining the paint scheme on the nose.

I'm still looking for confirmation, or an alternate theory. If you have information, let me know!

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