The story of Koolhoven 1886-1946


Sytse Frederick Willem Koolhoven
January 11, 1886 - July 1, 1946

Before Frederick Koolhoven learned to fly and began his aviation career, he 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. It did not take long before Koolhoven was noticed as a very skillfull driver and he was asked to drive races for Minerva. Eventually he made it to Minerva dealer for The Netherlands.

Koolhoven racing for the Minerva factory

A chance to have a close look at one of those flying machines, became the turning point in his life. Actually he was not impressed by the fragile construction of the plane. Yet, convinced that he would do a better job, it made him decide to study aviation techniques and learn to fly.
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 at the Hanriot flying school

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. In this year, 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.

Koolhoven landing his 'Heidevogel'

The Maatschappij voor Luchtvaart lived 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.
In the Summer of 1912, Koolhoven became promoted to works manager of the British Deperdussin Company Ltd. and moved to England. Here he was involved, among other British designed Deperdussins, in the development of the beautiful Deperdussin 'Seagull'.

The Deperdussin 'Seagull'

Unfortunately the existence of Deperdussin also came to an end, but Koolhoven found a new position as works manager with Sir W.G. Armstrong Whitworth and Co.
August 1914, W.O. I broke out and the British industry was running at full speed. In this period Koolhoven started to design his planes which received his initials F.K. and a number. The Armstrong Whitworth F.K.3, a scout, was his first success. Yet it was a small success compared to his Armstrong Whitworth F.K.8. of which 1701 had been ordered and served at the European front and the Middle and Far East.

The Armstrong Whitworth F.K.8 in service

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

The K-123 at the E.L.T.A. in 1919

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

The BAT F.K.26 (Koolhoven standing right)

The British Aerial Transport Company did not survive the post-war depression. Another job in aircraft production could not be found. April 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), had been 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.

The NVI F.K.31 at the Paris Air Salon

More types were developed such as the three engined N.V.I. F.K.33, for some time the largest airplane in service with the KLM.

The NVI F.K.33

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 for himself.

Koolhoven advertisement

The Koolhoven company was established in 1926, at the airport Waalhaven 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 England.

The first F.K.41

The best sold 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.

F.K.51's of the LVA in formation

The prototype of the F.K.55, a contra propelled 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 convential fighters.

Engine test of the F.K.55 prototype

In 1938, the N.V. Koolhoven Aeroplanes had grown to 1200 employees and a floor area of 8000 square metres.

The Koolhoven factory in 1938

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

The sad remains of the Koolhoven factory

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 remained to exist as a business holding and attempts were made to start up new projects. At one of these attempts two gliders were built.
Finally, in 1956, the N.V. Koolhoven Aeroplanes was closed and liquidated.

Frederick Koolhoven and his wife