B.A.T. F.K.26 'Commercial' ... world's first airliner
This story is followed by a chapter "About the statement and other first airliners".
World's first aircraft specifically designed for commercial aviation, 1919
When the end of World War I came near, aircraft builders saw their military orders cancelled and the interest for civil aviation as a new market grew. In the very first period after the war, commercial aviation started with the use of dumped military aircraft, scouts and bombers with the necessary modifications. These aircraft were far from comfortable. Passengers were placed in open cockpits, dressed up in thick suits and flying helmets as the only protection against the elements.
Frederick Koolhoven, at the time running the factory of the British
Aerial Transport Company, had realized himself that with the aircraft
of the time, traveling by air would be no competition for the comfort
of trains and ships. He chose to create an aircraft especially for
the transport of passengers. The first day after the armistice was
signed (November 11, 1918) he started working at the drawings
It was for the first time in history, an aircraft was specifically designed for commercial aviation. Frederick Koolhoven had thought about what was needed and came up with a new concept: a comfortable cabin located near the centre point of gravity, fully enclosed by the fuselage and the cockpit placed behind. The F.K.26 could take four passengers; large numbers of passengers were not to be expected in those days.
The F.K.26 had one disadvantage. The cabin door had been kept very small out of fear that a larger entrance would weaken the construction of the fuselage.
No orders were placed for the F.K.26. Nevertheless it was decided
to produce three more F.K.26,
With major Christopher Draper as the pilot and Frederick Koolhoven
as one of the passengers, the second F.K.26,
The ELTA meant the start of the airline COBOR, a cooperation between Frederick Koolhoven and the Dutch lieutenant L. Coblijn. COBOR started a weekly service Londen - Amsterdam (airfield Hounslow - airfield Soesterberg) at September 18, 1919. Unfortunately, the F.K.26 aircraft were claimed at unpredictable occasions by the English Air Ministry for military transport. This and the winter break after late October, forced COBOR out of business.
Despite its good performance, the F.K.26 did not become a commercial
success. Airline companies preferred making a choice out of the
many cheap offers of dumped military aircraft and convert them for
passenger transport, rather than investing in new aircraft.
Of the four F.K.26 produced, only one had been sold. The G-EAPK bought in 1920 by Instone Airline, flew a regular service between Croydon and Paris until July 1922.
In 1937 the prototype of the F.K.26 was found back at Ogilvy Aviation, a trader in second hand aircraft and parts. Frederick Koolhoven brought the aircraft to his factory in The Netherlands, had it restored and donated it to the Dutch Aviation Museum at airport Schiphol in 1938.
After the invasion in 1940, all aircraft and parts had to
be handed over to the Germans who either re-used or destroyed
the material. About ten aircraft from Schiphol, including
the F.K.26 prototype, were loaded on flat deck boats for transport
to the Fokker factory in the north of Amsterdam. The boats
were hidden in the polder where their cargo was safe for the
RAF ground attacks, but not for a group of locals who decided
not to let 'them' have it. By night, the F.K.26 prototype
has been pushed overboard, along with the other aircraft.
Until today, this historical aircraft lies in its grave, deep in the soil of a Dutch polder.
|Wingspan||14,03 m. / 46 ft. 0.36 in.|
|Length||12,61 m. / 41 ft. 4.46 in.|
|All-up weight||2050 kg. / 4525 lb.|
|Engine||350 hp Rolls Royce 'Eagle'|
|Maximum speed||196 km./h. at 3050 m. / 122 m.p.h. at 10,000 ft.|
|Production||1 prototype and 3 production aircraft|
About the statement and other first airliners
When you use the words "world's first" there will be people who
do not agree. Just like the flight of the Wright Brothers, as "the
world's first motorized flight", is still being questioned because
before this famous occasion there were the short flights made by Richard
Pearse and Gustav Weißkopf.
Some others believe it is Clément
Ader who should be honored. Today the Wright Brothers are generally
accepted as the world's first because their flight was regarded
as true, controlled flight. (Another reason was that there was no
convincing proof for the earlier claims.)
In the same way the question of which aircraft was the world's first airliner is not a matter of plain historical dates ... it also depends on the definition of "airliner".
Frederick Koolhoven was not the first to foresee passenger transport by air. From the beginning of aviation people had fantastic visions of future possibilities and a few made first efforts to bring them into practice. Like Albessard who built a tandem monoplane with a passenger cabin in 1912. He gave up on the aircraft after unsuccessful tests which were performed with only the pilot aboard.
There have been a few more aircraft like these, built for several reasons. Aircraft were still a bit of a circus act and taking more people up in the air was already quite a feat; some were solely build for these record attempts. These first passenger aircraft may have been a sign of things to come; they were no airliners yet ... there's a difference. It was simply to early for commercial aviation. Aviation first needed the technical development made in World War I.
There was one scheduled service flown by an aircraft before
World War I though ... the Tampa-St.Petersburg line starting
at January 1, 1914. The aircraft used for this service was
a flying boat, the
The "airliner" is a specific type of aircraft, designed
for the use of airlines, which concept takes comfort and economy
in account. Therefore other types of aircraft that have been used
for airlines, be it general aviation aircraft or converted military
aircraft, are no true airliners. Like, if some
It's the intention with which the aircraft was designed and built that matters ... was the design originally meant for the commercial transport of passengers?
In the last days of World War I the Farman company built the prototype for what should have been the 'Goliath' bomber, was it not that the war ended. The design was converted to a civil version which is successfully flown by several airlines. Still, the Farman F.60 'Goliath' was a bomber by origin.
Similarly the Vickers Vimy 'Commercial' was a spin-off from the well known Vickers Vimy bomber.
At this point, in April 1919, the
Before World War II the
In the same year
In the United States the remarkable
Shortly after, Alfred Lawson was a great talent for publicity, he took his aircraft on a
The Fokker F.II, the first of the very successful Fokker airliners,
made its first flight as late as October 1919. The F.II had a cabin
for four passengers and has flown in service with the KLM and the
(Its predecessor, the V.44 or F.I, was built very much like a military aircraft, with open cockpits. Because the
The world is a busy place. Frederick Koolhoven was not the only one having the idea, yet he was the first to realize it ... the first true airliner in history.