Noel Wien’s Fokker “Super Universal”


The Fokker “Super Universal” during assembly in 1929.


The same Fokker shown on the left, at the Pioneer Air Museum, 2015.

Summer intern and guest blogger, Kirsten, here again.  This time reporting on a special and unique plane at the PAM.  This particular plane struck a chord with me after seeing the images that are paired below.  Despite much physical loss to the structure of the “Super Universal”, it’s bones remain the same and tell a great story of pioneer aviation.  

Over the course of it’s life span, the Fokker had three owners. After the Ohio Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company, in 1933 it was sold to a Mr. Richard C. McCoy of Denver, Colorado. In 1934 it belonged to Northern Air Transportation, Inc. piloted by Hans Mirow in Fairbanks, Alaska, and finally was sold to Wien Alaska Airlines in 1936stationed in Fairbanks.  The Fokker was primarily used as a supply plane ferrying both passengers and freight to and from Wiseman, Alaska (a mining community roughly 180 miles northeast of Fairbanks).  The only other way supplies could be shuttled at the time was by dog team during the winter months or by boats coming up the Koyukuk River on high water in early summer.  

The Fokker “Super Universal” was involved in two accidents.  The first crash was on October 20, 1938 in Wiseman, Alaska when the landing gear failed.  By February 7, 1939, mechanics had completed the repairs and the Fokker was in service again.  The second accident, and ultimately its final flight, was on April 8, 1939.  The Fokker was being used to ferry a replacement engine from Fairbanks to the Upper Koyukuk After successfully delivering the engine, the Fokker hit a snowdrift during takeoff, knocking off the landing gear.  It went down and broke off a wing.  No one was injured and the crew was rescued shortly after.  The Fokker was abandoned on the mountaintop, in the southern Brooks Range, between the South Fork Koyukuk River and the Jim River in the Upper Moore Creek Drainage, 23 miles southeast of Coldfoot, Alaska. 

On August 30, 1984 the Fokker “Super Universal” was salvaged and removed by helicopter to Fairbanks, Alaska and joined the Pioneer Air Museum Collection.  At the time of the salvage, the crash vicinity still showed signs of a campfire and dinner implements: a large frying pan, two large ham cans, a small meat can, a rubber sole and odds and ends, which the pilots and mechanics used while awaiting rescue on the day following the accident.  During recovery, the landing gear and other parts were removed from the aircraft’s frame.  Before removal, archaeologists and aviation historians mapped the major components and surveyed the site.  The engine was removed from the cargo compartment, and the airframe rolled upright and slung by helicopter to Prospect Creek, and trucked to the Fairbanks International Airport.  Following this effort, the engines, landing gear, and other components were removed.  Labor to extract the craft was donated by members of the Interior and Arctic Alaska Aeronautical Foundation, an organization composed of aviation experts and enthusiast and the foundation governing the Pioneer Air Museum.  Funding was provided through a grant from the State Historic Preservation Office in Anchorage, Alaska.

In August of 1929, the Fokker Aircraft Corporation of America of Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey completed the Fokker “Super Universal” aircraft (registration #NC9792).  In factory condition, the Fokker was an eight passenger, high wing, cabin monoplane powered with a nine cylinder Pratt & Whitney “Wasp” engine of 400-420 horsepower.  Easy seat removal allowed enough room for a 1250 lb payload of freight in the cabin.  Its construction was a welded steel fuselage framework, covered with fabric, with an all-wood cantilever wing.  It had a wingspan of 50’ 8”, wing area of 370 sq. ft., height of 8’ 11”, and gross weight of 5550 lbs.  Its maximum speed was 138 mph, cruising speed of 118 mph, a ceiling height of 17,500 ft., and a range of 650 miles.  From the factory, it was equipped with experimental Goodyear air tires, but was versatile and could be used on pontoons or skis.  Of the sixty Super Universals built, ours is unique.  The craft was built specially for the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company for aircraft tire evaluation.   

The Fokker “Super Universal” aircraft is significant in Alaskan aviation history because of its association with the pioneer aviator and founder of Wien Airlines, Noel Wien, as well as its unique and revolutionary structural design. Its cantilever wing design was innovative for the time period.  This design allowed, for the first time, the wing to be supported by one brace, instead of the usual connecting cables that had previously been used on aircraft.  Additionally, the pilot’s section was enclosed, making it popular with professional “bush pilots” of the North.  
The present condition of the Fokker is deteriorated, though most of its essential structure remains intact.  Due to being exposed to the elements, most of the wood and fabric have long disintegrated.  The left wing was sheared off on impact, as was one of the skis.  At some point after being abandoned, the craft was blown over by a storm, resulting in further damage to the remaining wing and the tail.  The framework of the fuselage is in good condition, although some salvageable parts were taken from the plane soon after the original crash, the rest of the plane is structurally sound.

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