The Fokker, 35 Years Later

Note: Before reading this story, you should first read the story of how Jim built a model of a WWI German Fokker airplane. This story won't make much sense unless you read the other one first. Click here for the first story.

The Fokker was like a member of the family. While it lived in the garage, it was still an integral part of our family. We gave birth to it, nourished it and saw it take it's fledgling flight. We enjoyed its company for a couple years and then it went on its way, never to be seen again. It journeyed to the east coast, performed in shows, thrilled crowds and became famous on its own. But we never forgot it. Several attempts were made to establish contact with it again but all ended in failure. Then one day a letter arrived telling about the Fokker. It had made its way to the west coast where loving hands are bringing it back to its original glory. It will fly again! Here is a letter I received from Brad Heinitz, the new owner.

Hello Jim:

What a pleasant surprise to hear from you. My name as you already know is Bradford Heinitz.

I actually tried to contact you about three years ago, but without success. I've been very busy and just lost track of the time. Amazing what a computer will do when you have to find something or someone nowadays. Well, here's the scoop on that neat machine you built years ago.

I happened by the plane in late 2000, I believe around August / September. A local fella had received it with a large group of materials that came from the estate of Salvatoré Labate. At the time I was making a deal on rebuilding some floats for the guy, but fate would later dictate that he didn't want to pay my going shop rate. Well, I saw the little Eindecker parked on his grass strip and inquired about it's disposition. He knew exactly what I was driving at, so we made a deal to trade labor for the little plane. I looked it over and made an offer and he agreed to trade the plane for my labor costs and he would supply the materials to repair the floats. Again, as fate would have it, the deal came apart when the materials to repair the floats did not—lets say—materialize. By this time though, I already had the Eindecker and the logs in my possession (goody for me). Anyhow, I tried every negotiation technique in the book, but to no avail. This dragged out for close to a year. During that time though I started searching for the person who had authority in the matter. (I had no idea that Salvatoré Labate was deceased at this time.) After calling about every Labate in the US, I finally found Salvatoré's son, Christopher. He informed me that the executor of his late father's estate was a man in Puerto Rico (name withheld). After a few more phone calls and at last a fax number, I sent a request for closing the paper trail of ownership and the next day I got a response.

I was informed by the executor that the fella that I was trying to trade with did not have legal right to sell or trade the plane or any other materials that were in his possession from the Labate estate. I was to inform him as well that he was to surrender any monies that had been acquired though such sales of those materials in his possession. (The web thickens) I later called the executor of the Labate estate and settled on a dollar amount for the plane of $500.00 US. One week later I had the Fed's bill of sale with the appropriate signature. Now I can sleep at night and I don't have to worry about the shady dealings with the other fella. (There's a lot more to the trade deal but I don't want to write a WAR & PEACE EPIC).

So, about the plane. Right now I'm just over half way though a total restoration of the complete aircraft. I'm a real stickler for nostalgia, so I like to keep these things original, as they were when brand new. The fuselage was completely disassembled to the very last stick. All it took was a putty knife and a pliers (aside from the hardware) to pop all the glue joints. It seems the elements have not bee very kind to her. Most of the glue had crystallized (in the fuselage for the most part). The majority of the fuselage structure was free of rot although there was some water damage in the tail where the long tension rod passes through and the front side skins forward of the splice had to be replaced with new skins (donated by a very gracious mahogany hollow core door from the local home improvement store). They don't sell sheets of mahogany at this particular store. When I ask about cutting a door up, to utilize the skin, they informed me that they don't cut doors. I said I don't want you to resize the door I just want to cut the faces the remove the veneers. The sales person said, “Why?” I said, “I'm building an airplane.” At that point I think the sales person was thinking about calling local mental hospital. So I just paid for the door and cut it my self.

I have about 150 photos of the fuselage rebuild from start to finish. I have to thank you for cutting out all those parts, saved me a heck of a lot of time. Ha Ha. I'm currently re-affixing the main gear back to their rightful place. Then comes the pilot’s seat and harness. I'll be working on the wings very soon as well. The wings seem to have taken the years a bit better than the rest of the fuselage has. Oh, and the paint is the original color and all the markings are just as you had them, save for the forward portion of the plane. I've opted to do the front of the fuselage and cowl with a faux brushed metal look, as most of the early Eindeckers are sporting. So far she's looking real good. Total time to this point would be about two months work at 16hrs a day. I'm tired. I've been at it for 2.5 years off and on. But enthusiastic. The assembly is as you had done with a few exceptions. I added two gussets of oak to the frame where the step exits the fuselage and lowered the step about 1.5 inches. (I got big toes.) Also a small reinforcement added to the forward attachment of the tail wheel assembly, and the addition of some heavy-duty blind nuts for the four bolts that hold the assembly to the end of the fuselage. Makes it very easy to remove the tail if need be. Also added a two vertical gussets made of fir to the rear compression frame vertical member below the rear wing attachment point. The fuselage showed signs of deformation there, probably cause by wet wood and flying loads from the lower rear flying wire support frame. So I just spread the load over a larger area. Should be good for a long time to come. (P.S., it still has its mock gun.)

One thing I came across about elevator was very sensitive at higher speeds. As recorded in the logs and was also told this by Tony Spezio of the TUHOLER fame and from reading your web page last night. So I've been doing a lot of reading and researching the original Eindecker construction. From photos and a friend of mine who's big on the WWI aircraft, seems that they had a lot of trouble with the stabilator. Many of the old factory photos show the hinge point at various places on the cord line. Some forward some back. Most of the stabilator-equipped planes of today are pivoted at about 28% of the cord, but all have a servo tab used for trim and a very large mass balance weight. So I'm in the process of designing a trim system that is completely contained within the fuselage and moving the pivot of "The Influencers" to influence their influence. It's a lot of side of the mouth tongue biting and one eye closed kind of work.

As for recent history, the logs stop about mid 1976, I was 16 then and just learning to hang glide. It seems most of the flights before that time were mainly shows and local flights with people involved with the plane. After that time I think people either forgot about it or there are a lot of missing log entries. From what I heard from Mr. Labate's son Christopher, she sat idle for a very long time in storage. Maybe twenty years or so; maybe more. Anyhow that's all going to change very soon.

I've rebuilt the engine and hung her back on the nose of the plane. So it won't be long before I start the final assembly and get her back in the air. (Oh, forgot to mention I'm also working on a replacement gun that will operate and sound like the real thing, only using modern electronics and go old fashion thing-a-ma-jigs).

Oh, one morning I was sitting in the living room watching the Wings Channel, while eating my breakfast (a bowl of cereal) and as I placed a spoonful into my mouth what should appear on the screen, My (and your) Eindecker. I about spit. "WOW!", I said, as a dribble of milk ran over my lip and off my chin back into the bowl. Then realizing that I had more decorum, I closed my mouth and then I said"VIDEO!" I grabbed the remote and hit the browse button. Great it's on again; I'll tape it. (Four Years of Thunder, a very cool program) I'm thinking this little plane is famous! We got a celebrity here.

Anyhow, here are some photos of the restore. I'll keep you posted on the progress.

Many thanks,
Bradford Heinitz
The Aerodyne Shop
Bent, broken, busted or bashed, if I think she'll fly, I'll fix it and fly it! (Oh ya, it just takes $ and TIME) ;-)


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