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British Industrial History

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Frederick Koolhoven

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Frederick Willem Koolhoven (January 11, 1886 - July 1, 1946)

Frederick Koolhoven had a promising start in the automobile trade. Eighteen years old, he decided to try his luck abroad and found himself a job as mechanic at the automobile and motorcycle factory Minerva in Belgium.

1910 Koolhoven resigned from Minerva and went to France where he registered at the flying school of the brothers Hanriot in Betheny near Rheims. Koolhoven obtained his pilot's licence, number 290, on November 8, 1910.

Koolhoven returned to The Netherlands to work for the Maatschappij voor Luchtvaart (Aviation Company), a partnership established to promote aviation by organizing airshows and flying contests.

1911 Koolhoven constructed his first plane the 'Heidevogel' (Heatherbird), a copy of the Farman biplane with some adjustments to the construction and a gondola for its passengers. The Maatschappij voor Luchtvaart had only a short life. At the end of 1911 it went bankrupt.

Again Koolhoven went to France, to the Société Provisoire des Aéroplanes Deperdussin, where he joined the staff of Louis Bechereau, designer of the monocoque Deperdussins, the most sensational planes of their time.

1912 In the Summer of 1912, Koolhoven was promoted to works manager of the British Deperdussin company and moved to England. Here he was involved in the development of the 'Seagull', as well as other British-designed Deperdussins.

The existence of Deperdussin also came to an end, but Koolhoven found a new position as works manager with Armstrong Whitworth .

WWI In this period Koolhoven started to design planes which received his initials F.K. and a number. The Armstrong Whitworth F.K.3, a scout, was his first success. Later came the Armstrong Whitworth F.K.8. of which 1,701 had been ordered and served at the European front and the Middle and Far East.

1917 Koolhoven accepted the offered position of chief designer with the British Aerial Transport Co. His fourth design for B.A.T., the F.K.23 'Bantam', was a superb fighter but showed up too late to prove itself in battle.

Post-WWI Koolhoven designed the B.A.T. F.K.26 'Commercial', a milestone in the history of aviation. In those days other passenger planes were converted military planes. The F.K.26 was the world's first aircraft specifically designed for commercial aviation.

The British Aerial Transport Co did not survive the post-war depression. Another job in aircraft production could not be found.

1920 After eight years work in England, Koolhoven decided to return to The Netherlands.

In The Netherlands the situation was more or less the same. The only company involved in aircraft production was Fokker, but Koolhoven was not the man to work for someone like Anthony Fokker. Instead Koolhoven accepted an offer from the manufacturer of the Spyker automobiles, 'Trompenburg' and returned to his former trade.

Two years later Koolhoven found his way back to aviation when a new company, the N.V. Nationale Vliegtuig Industrie (National Aircraft Industry), was established. Koolhoven's first design for the N.V.I. was the F.K.31, a two seat scout and fighter. Its prototype became the sensation of the Paris Air Salon of 1922.

More types were developed such as the three-engined N.V.I. F.K.33, for some time the largest aeroplane in service with KLM. These designs however, were not a commercial success and the production of the F.K.31 met with many difficulties. The N.V. Nationale Vliegtuig Industrie closed down.

After the disappointing experience with the N.V.I., Koolhoven had enough of working for others and decided to start a business for himself.

1926 The Koolhoven company was established at the Waalhaven airport near Rotterdam. At first the Koolhoven company was in the market of private planes, trainers and small airliners. A few designs were special ordered and built one-off. Towards the war mainly military aircraft would be produced. In its existance, 21 prototypes would roll out of the Koolhoven factory.

The first success of the Koolhoven company was the F.K.41, one of the world's first private planes with closed cabin. Allthough the Koolhoven factory would build only six F.K.41's, the licence production by the Desoutter Aircraft Company became very successful in Britain.

The best selling Koolhoven aircraft was the F.K.51 of which at least 161 have been produced. This military trainer was ordered by the LVA, the MLD (the pre-war Dutch navy airforce), the LA-KNIL (the pre-war Dutch colonial airforce) and the Spanish government.

1936 The prototype of the F.K.55, a contra-propellered fighter with many innovations, was one of the highlights at the Paris Air Salon of 1936. A second test flight prototype had been build and flown, but the project was delayed because priority was given to more conventional fighters.

1938 N.V. Koolhoven Aeroplanes had grown to 1,200 employees and a floor area of 8,000 square metres.

May 10, 1940, The Netherlands was invaded by Nazi Germany. In order to destroy the LVA (the pre-war Dutch airforce) all airfields were heavily bombed, as was the airport Waalhaven. The Koolhoven factory was one of the first targets of the bombers. Within minutes Koolhoven's life-work was destroyed.

1946 Frederick Koolhoven died of a stroke, July 1, 1946. His life was characterized by set-backs and an indestructible optimism. He was a man having plans all the time, even after the total destruction of his factory.

Koolhoven's company continued as a holding company; attempts were made to start up new projects. At one of these attempts two gliders were built. Finally, in 1956, N.V. Koolhoven Aeroplanes was closed and liquidated.

See Also


Sources of Information

  • [1] Koolhoven Aeroplanes Foundation