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P.O. Box 204 St. James, NY 11780
Fred Berg's pristine Fokker D.VII was scratch built over a five-year period beginning in 1963. Since completion it has acquired about 220 hours of flying time, and a very colorful history.
Photo: Fred Berg Collection
Construction of the Fokker D.VII started in 1963. To be honest, I did not know what was involved. Everything on the plane is highly specialized. There are no “off-theshelf” parts. Everything must be handmade. There was a war on in Vietnam, people were busy, and since the Internet didn't exist, finding parts was difficult. Yes, the plane flies beautifully, but it is not streamlined. Aerodynamically, it is very dirty. Because of the high drag it needs a ten foot diameter, slow-turning propeller, and an engine to match. Remember that the thrust of a propeller is proportional to the square of the diameter. Double the diameter, and you increase the thrust four times. Helicopters fly because they have big propellers. Since the slow turning engines with proper horsepower are water-cooled, the plane needs a radiator. These three items (engine, propeller, and radiator) cost the builder well over 1,500 hours in original construction time. Two of these three items, the propeller and the engine, caused three emergency landings. If you build a modern
plane, you don’t need a radiator, and the other two items are store-bought and very reliable. Building this plane was an 8,000 X 8,000 job…8,000 dollars and 8,000 hours. The plane exists because the builder was compulsive and neurotic.
The engine, a 160 hp Hall Scott M5A, was a basket case. The carburetors, magnetos, one magneto bevel gear, water, fuel and oil pumps were missing. The engine was rebuilt. When the engine wouldn’t start, it was discovered that it ran in the wrong direction. That meant the propeller and accessories were useless. Therefore the direction of rotation was reversed. The bevel gear on the cam shaft that mates with the tower shaft gear was turned around and placed on the other side of the tower gear so that the camshaft now rotated in a proper fourcycle order (Intake, Compression, Power, Exhaust). The
therefore. and they are almost exact copies of the Mercedes engine that powered many D. brass washers were placed in counter-bored holes by the propeller bolts.shaft had a large hole through it. The cylinder firing order is 1.2. the engine ran fine. These people were extremely helpful and permitted me to actually touch their plane.3. and the final precision balance was achieved by using varnish on the light side.750”. When looking at the camshaft. and there was a crack in the first layer of ash. The camshaft rotates at halfcrankshaft speed.750” steel tube. 10' 2" propeller. Lower Right: The author's hand-carved. The crankshaft throws are located every 120 degrees.VII.6. fashioned from lead templates which were fitted to an original Fokker D. Since a six-cylinder engine turns two revolutions to complete four cycles. which was bored out to . the cylinder cam sets are set up 60 degrees apart in that order. That is why propellers have copper tips to protect the wood.VII located in Knowlton Quebec War Museum in Canada. This is where the camshaft was welded up.4. When completed.5. It was balanced in a longitudinal direction by sanding the heavy side. In the transverse direction.VII Photos: Fred Berg Collection . The propeller was balanced on a large needle. The ash wood in the propeller was wet. I had no alternative but to carve the propeller myself. Propeller The propeller curves were taken from an original Fokker D. The shaft was cut into six pieces and reassembled over a . so that each set of cam lobes is located at 60 degree intervals. The propeller is 10’-2” long and has a pitch of 68 inches. one would notice V notches in the center of the long bearings. Above & Top Right: Two views of the original Hall Scott M5A engine seen mounted in the fuselage of the author's Fokker D.VII aircraft in World War I. The propeller tip is about six inches from the ground when the plane is horizontal to the ground and will suck up stones when taking off at full throttle. a cylinder fires every 120 degrees. Six of these engines were manufactured in 1917.
the original Fokker D. Above: The framework of the rudder. Below: The author's Fokker D. Photos: Fred Berg Collection .Left: The author holding the welded steel tube fuselage.VII owned by the Smithsonian Institution served as a source to obtain precise measurements. With a lack of original drawings to work from. the aircraft was undergoing restoration at the time and was completely disassembled. Fortunately. horizontal stabilizer and elevator.VII coming together in a shop on Long Island's North Shore.
A month later he called me up and said he needed more information.000 radiator tubes awaiting installation. Air flows through the tubes.000 times in order to produce the D. and the engine pan that meets the radiator were all coming together with great precision. At this point he was working for Grumman Aircraft. Our second meeting took place in 1965. The radiator holds an enormous amount of water and is very efficient.VII fuselage. It took only 30 minutes to explain what I needed and to draw up some free-hand sketches. The core consists of 5. Photo: Fred Berg Collection . The radiator fits over the upper crankcase and wraps around the first cylinder. Considering the information that he was given and the time that he was allowed. and water surrounds the tubes. and knew him to be a first-class metal worker. and after I told him about my project.The Radiator The radiator is a required part that adds beauty and character to the plane and must be as authentic as possible. One of the hand soldered radiator tubes which needed to be replicated 5. as seen during various stages of construction. Photos: Fred Berg Collection All 5.000 tubes which are soldered together by hand. he agreed to try to help me with the metal fabrication. when I met him by accident in a bar. I don’t know what I would have done without him. Photos: Fred Berg Collection Richard Peterson's beautiful work forming the radiator dome. The soldering takes place at the hexed ends forming a very strong beehive-type structure. Photo: Fred Berg Collection The completed radiator seen mounted on the D. Richard Peterson I first met Richard Peterson during the 1950s when he owned a foreign motorcycle shop in Queens. the lower part with its compound bends. NY. The parts were smooth as glass. The radiator dome with its compound curves. with no dents or forming cracks.VII radiator. Each tube is four inches long and the half-inch ends are hexagonal in shape. I went to meet him and was stunned to see that all of the parts were perfectly made. his performance was unbelievable.
so the D.First Emergency Landing The first emergency landing occurred when a copper tip broke loose.VII was fired up and flown back to its base of operation. I turned to roll off the parkway into a field and thought I was safe. the plane suddenly started to kick. Amazingly. and the plane vibrated violently. The engine was fired back up and ran very well. The intake and exhaust rockers were removed so that nothing could enter or leave the cylinder. At five miles per hour. The exhaust rocker was repaired. Some men building a shopping store came over to join the action. The local farmers came out to investigate and brought tools with them. And again. One would think that losing the propeller would cause the engine to rev up and explode because the load was removed from the engine.000 cubic inches) are not finicky. it was flown back to its hangar. You would think that a dead cylinder would cost the engine a loss of more than 50 RPM. the propeller broke loose from the plane and was never recovered. When the intake valve opened. and these types of planes have a high center of gravity to keep the propeller blades off the ground. I could still hear the loud swishing sound generated by air roaring through the empty spark plug holes. Second Emergency Landing While flying near Riverhead. The center of the propeller is well over my head.VII. an equal amount was removed from both sides of the propeller for rough balance. Then the propeller was rebalanced. and I noticed that the exhaust rocker on cylinder number one had cracked and was bent out of shape. Photo: Fred Berg Collection . Using the men’s tools. with no muffler and the exhaust pipe only two feet from my right ear. An airplane such as this cannot be abandoned even for one day in a field. and I cannot reach the spark plugs without a chair or ladder. It seems that these large engines (over 1. Once they are running. Long Island. painfully tumbled over The wayward propeller tip that was responsible for the first emergency landing. Although there was a slight vibration due to unbalance. but it fit the engine and propeller hub and was not questioned. This is especially true for the Fokker D. preventing the exhaust valve from opening. the loss of eight inches of the propeller length enabled the engine to turn an additional 50 RPM. they are easy to remove. Third Emergency Landing At 49 hours flight time. and the rivets shredded the wood. The spark plugs were also removed so that there would be no compression losses for that cylinder. they keep on running. The propeller nut did look very inadequate. That's because there is no airflow over the tail surfaces to keep the tail down. The old saying that the most dangerous moment of a landing is just before the plane comes to a stop is true. The plane ran into a rut and very slowly. but this isn't the case. Afterwards. The engine stops running because the propeller is the flywheel and is necessary to overcome the engine compression. The loss of one cylinder reduced the maximum RPM by only 50. since an airplane such as this cannot be abandoned even for one day in a field. Since the rockers and valves are exposed for cooling and preflight oiling. Four inches of copper tip were missing from one side of the propeller. the copper was removed and replaced with fiberglass. The plane landed in an isolated area to ascertain the problem. the burning gases went into the intake manifold and disturbed the first three cylinders. I had no choice but to land on a local farm. This failure resulted in a forced landing on William Floyd Parkway on Long Island.
onto its back. a tailwheel and a VHF radio which allowed it to land at modern airports. The author seated in the cockpit of the completed D. This time. a cruise speed of 95 mph.VII in flight. one that would never come loose again. It had a top speed of 109 mph. half of a propeller was carved. Once again. I would fall out of the plane and land on my head. an airplane such as this cannot be abandoned even for one day in a field. but it still performed extremely well.000 ft in six minutes. Fabricating the second propeller took only a quarter of the time of the first one. I knew that I needed both hands to open the seat belt and shoulder harness and that as soon as I did. I did just that. It was slightly overweight due to the addition of brakes.VII Photo: Fred Berg Collection The D. the propeller hub was made to accommodate a real big propeller nut. The tumble did seem to last forever. It took forever to turn down 120 pounds of eightinch diameter steel to a final ten-pound hub with the lathes available. It was immediately dismantled and brought home. This time. Photo: Fred Berg Collection . and could climb to 5. The propeller hub was another story. The college had just received a Bridgeport true-trace milling machine. and the true trace machine was used to copy the half proper curves onto both sides of the new propeller blank.
Realizing that he was an exceptional machinist. As a youngster he did stunt-flying and skywriting in addition to teaching and playing the violin in a professional orchestra. and using a fly cutter and vertical milling machine. It is amazing that a plane that flies so well in the air could not fly because it was not safe on the ground. The D. it rocked and rolled. The springs consist of threequarter inch bungee cords wrapped around the axle. “Good Lord. This is the reason pipes appear on the lower wingtips in some of the photos. Can’t you see that the left wing tips are closer together than the right wing tips?” He said that the left N strut between the wings was about three centimeters shorter than the right strut. Hugo Mutz was a sergeant on the Suffolk County Police Force. . He demanded that I also remove the ridiculous wing tip skids. As the D. The gear ran in the engine for several hours and was then heat treated. and that was why it ground looped. After the changes were made. an American company in Germany hired him. In the front view the wings are tapered in every direction. They were replaced by considerably stronger springs. On two occasions machinists tried to make them for me but were unsuccessful. fine-handling thing of beauty. they brought him over to America. The gear worked perfectly. It really didn’t matter because being off 1” over 22’ was insignificant and would not affect the performance of the plane. if you stepped on the rudder. a gust of wind under the right wing will cause it to go even higher. the wheel would not respond because the springs connecting the rudder to the tail wheel were too soft. There were two things wrong with it. the left wing approaches the ground and the right wing goes high. tightened up substantially. How can this old goat be so arrogantly certain about three centimeters? I got a scale and made measurements.VII. the left end strut was about 1-1/4” shorter than the right one (1” = 2. Old Henry was correct. Under these circumstances. He taught me a lot about the art of machining metal parts.VII became a docile. Meeting me in a restaurant he begged me to see the Fokker. He taxied the plane out of the hangar down the runway and brought it back. Although he was a natural to flight test the D. and he is sorely missed. thus pushing the lower wing into the Earth. I was shocked when he told me that he would not fly it because it was not controllable on the ground. and I suspect that some of the employees had a hand in this. 1) Tom said that when the plane taxied. The Dutchman came to the rescue. and damn it. (General DeGaul referred to this as the American brain-drain of Europe). Thomas Murphy died when he was 88 years old. There is not a straight line on the plane. Strange Stories Thomas Murphy Tom Murphy was an extraordinary pilot who gave flying lessons until he died in his late eighties. The D. 2) He said that the rear tail wheel was not functioning correctly. Tom referred to Richard as the Dutchman. I was told that the reason the plane had such a slow stall speed was due to a very light wing loading. Now I needed a bevel gear for my magneto. When Tom was available. The Dutchman was the second person who willingly helped me out. and it wasn't to be. Once. The plane was completely assembled outside my shop on Hollandia Horse farm in Nissequogue. he made the gear. Many times a ground loop leads to a plane further tumbling onto its nose.VII sat in a hangar at Grumman’s Calverton field.VII was flown three times and ground looped on the second landing. The landing gear springs had to be Heinrich Hoffman owned the original Competition Motors in Smithtown on Terry Road. After the war. I did all of this. I requested that he fly the plane to another airport. it was being damaged. the wings are not parallel.Richard Flieg (The Dutchman) Thomas Murphy. He said that I and O on the primer pump must mean input and output. He spent his teens learning to be a machinist and working long hours on the damaged railroads. I told him that he was crazy. it waddled like a drunk. damaging the propeller and motor. a brilliant machinist who had a shop.VII stands ten feet high with a disturbing background of trees. It bounced. introduced me to Richard Flieg. He formed one side of simple 5/16 square lathe tool to fit one side of the gear tooth profile. and that I should put skids on the ends of the lower wings.5 cm). Richard’s formal education ended when he was about 13 years old. As we came over the crest of the hill he said. he was ill at the time. This is a ground loop. He was an observer (beobachter) and all around mechanic in the German WWI Air Force. The shop was just over the top of a hill. my flight instructor. the D. Now everything was fine. I tried everywhere to purchase one. When taxiing. while watching me work. When a plane is taxiing and leans to the left. a result of schools being bombed out during the war. he examined the motor and said that something was wrong.
Simultaneously. you may lose your shirt. Two lanes produce a runway too narrow to land on. lined up with the runway and landed at a nice. The plane will yaw such that the high wing will move rearwards and lose lift while the low wing will move forward and Sergeant Hugo Mutz is shown admiring one of the black German Spandau machine guns. It's as if you were in a balloon. After losing the propeller. there is a tendency to jump into the air stalled. I made a sharp turn going south over the parkway and landed just short of Jericho Turnpike. How many airplanes can travel that slow and make sharp turns safely? When the U. There was no traffic. It happened to me once. Again. That is why the allies in WWI complained about the new German plane that can hang on the propeller and shoot at you from below. It is a frightening experience. After that point in time. I was invited to the celebration. Now I possibly have one-hundred and fifty feet of altitude. Once you have airspeed.” then grabbed a wrench and reversed the lines. Given the signal. and the plane was lost. you must rely on rudder to straighten it out. and the bandit panics and shoots Hugo seven times. This occurs when the air flowing over the control surfaces doesn't have enough pressure to make them work. give the engine more throttle and kick the rudder on the side corresponding to the high wing. There is a drawback with the low stall speeds. One day in full uniform during his lunch hour.000 feet. I contacted the tower and was told that they would give me a green light when they wanted me to land. I know of two cases where this happened. Suddenly the four-lane parkway divides into two lanes north and south with trees in the divider. If you taxi fast with the tail down.VII has about 220 hours on it. Never put your money where your mouth is. I felt like I must have traveled five miles.VII and liked the big hollow box spars because the spars produced wings that were full cantilever. you're safe. He solved a problem before I knew I had one. Perhaps I can explain why he likes the gun. I came into the landing pattern. wires between the wings. He interrupts a holdup in progress. the plane had been perfected. I flew over and followed William Floyd Parkway in a northerly direction crossing Jericho Turnpike. safe 50 mph. Reihold Platz was the designer of the Fokker D. This is why the plane has such remarkable flying characteristics.Well. get the tail up as fast as possible to kill the lift. To take off safely. The stall speed is about 45 mph. when landing at a slow speed. Now thick wings give tremendous lift. the plane starts to float up into the air and is very responsive to the controls. Top speed is about 105 mph. “N” shaped struts were placed between the wings so that if one wing was damaged in combat. If a gust of wind rolls the plane. The figure of 120 mph given in literature cannot be. Everybody behind me cursed me out because they had to go around the pattern a second time because they couldn’t fly as slow as I could. When I lost the propeller in flight.S. he walked into a bank in Smithtown to cash his paycheck. for the plane would be going faster than the propeller. hanging on the propeller until I picked up speed and could lower the nose. especially at low speeds. He said “That’s wrong. The last emergency landing occurred at 49 hours. Since I do not have radio equipment in the plane. Photo: Fred Berg Collection Summary The Fokker D. You must always have respect for all people because you can never tell what their abilities are. I was at an altitude of less than 1. the ailerons in the upper wing are not effective at all. and when you hit 50 mph. government gave Suffolk County their military airport in the Hamptons. the I line on the pump was going to the motor and O line was to the fuel tank. Very angry. They did not need any bracing . All this time I was gliding at 50 mph. I am not sure that all this was understood at that point in time. Sergeant Mutz returned the fire and ended the career of one bank bandit. The power on stall speed is much less than 40 mph. the other wing would support it. The increased engine power will send a blast of air over the rudder so that the rudder will respond. no more problems. and then you can’t control the plane. I drifted all over the place and just kept the nose up.
In 1976 my father died. Everything said in this report is true. Yagen plans to eventually restore the D. which will be erected in late 2009. Virginia. A sight which will hopefully return in the near future.VII photographed in 2007 at its new home: Gerald Yagen's Military Aviation Museum in Virgina Beach. and it will be permanently housed at the museum in a new hangar dedicated to World War I aviation. The Fokker D. Fred Berg's Fokker D. Mr. Mr. may God hold you in the palm of his hand and keep you safe as he always did with me.gain lift. Photo: Fred Berg Collection . I hope you enjoyed reading it and perhaps learned a thing or two.VII in flight. where it remained until two years ago. I built a house across the street from the farm so that my mother could come live with me. Yagen plans to eventually restore the aircraft to airworthy condition.VII to airworthy condition. \ Photo: Fred Berg Collection Until we meet again. or go around once again. When the lift is equal on both sides of the wing. Then kill the power and proceed to land. The lift is dependent on the relative airspeed over the wings. the wing will level off. when it was purchased by Gerald Yagen for display at the Military Aviation Museum located in Virginia Beach. Virginia. The last flight of the Fokker was at Oshkosh. Teaching responsibilities and family problems forced me to abandon the Fokker for what I thought would be a short time. I placed the Fokker in the basement. in 1975. Wisconsin.
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