Fokker F. VIIb/3m — “Southern Cross” by Frog

1/72 scale
Kit No. F175
Cost: $35.00 (aftermarket)
Decals: One version
Comments: Rare kit; Historic aircraft from aviation’s Golden Age

History

The Fokker F.VII was an airliner produced in the 1920s by the Dutch aircraft manufacturer. The original 1924 design by Walter Rethel was a single-engined, high-wing monoplane, but Anthony Fokker modified it with two additional engines and entered it in the inaugural Ford Reliability Tour in 1925, which it won. Consequently, the production versions F.VIIa/3m, F.VIIb/3m and F.10 all had three engines, and the aircraft became popularly known as the Fokker Trimotor, and the American Ford Trimotor is suspiciously similar in design.

The 8- to 12-passenger Fokker was the aircraft of choice for many early airlines, both in Europe and the Americas. Along with the similar Ford Trimotor, it dominated the American market in the late 1920’s. However, the popularity of the Fokker quickly waned after the 1931 death of Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne in the crash of TWA Flight 599, a Fokker F.10. The subsequent investigation, which revealed problems with the Fokker’s plywood-laminate construction, resulted in the banning of the aircraft on commercial flights, and the rise of all-metal aircraft such as the Boeing 247 and Douglas DC-2.

Although the Fokker F. VII disappeared from commercial airline service in the United States after 1931, it had already achieved international fame as the chosen aircraft of explorers like Rear Admiral Richard Byrd, who claimed he flew over the North Pole in a Fokker F.VII named Jospehine Ford on May 9, 1926, just a few days before it was reached by explorer Roald Amundsen in the dirigible airship Norge.

Perhaps the most famous F.VII is Southern Cross, an F.VIIb/3m version operated by Sir Charles Kingsford Smith of Australia. Southern Cross was the first aircraft to cross the Pacific Ocean, flying from the United States to Australia in June 1928 — a distance of 7,250 miles. It was also the first aircraft to cross the Tasman Sea, flying from Australia to New Zealand and back in September 1928.

Southern Cross began life as a polar exploration aircraft called the Detroiter, of the Detroit News-Wilkins Arctic expedition. The Detroiter crashed in Alaska in 1926, and was recovered and repaired by the Australian expedition leader, George Hubert Wilkins. Wilkins, who had decided the Fokker was too large for his Arctic explorations, met with Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm in San Francisco and sold them the aircraft, without engines or instruments.

Having fitted the aircraft out with engines and the other required parts, Kingsford Smith flew the plane to make two attempts at the world endurance record — in an effort to raise funds for his real objective, a trans-Pacific flight. However, after the New South Wales government withdrew its sponsorship of the flight, it looked as if the money would run out and Kingsford Smith would have to sell the Southern Cross. The aircraft was bought by American aviator and philanthropist Allan Hancock, who then loaned it back to Kingsford Smith and Ulm for the attempt to cross the Pacific.

On May 31, 1928, the crew — Charles Kingsford Smith, Charles Ulm, and Americans Harry Lyon (navigator) and James Warner (radio operator), took off from Oakland, California. The Southern Cross first stopped for rest and refueling in Hawaii before setting off for Fiji. This leg of the journey took 34.5 hours across open seas before gliding past the Grand Pacific Hotel in Suva, Fiji, where a large and enthusiastic crowd saw the first aircraft to land in Fiji touch down at Albert Park. The Southern Cross landed at Eagle Farm Airport in Brisbane, Australia on June 9, where a crowd of 25,000 people were waiting to greet it on its arrival at the airport. The Southern Cross flew on to Sydney the following day (June 10).

Shortly before Kingsford Smith’s death in 1935, he donated the Southern Cross to the Commonwealth of Australia, for display in a museum. The aircraft was brought out of retirement briefly in 1945 for the filming of the movie Smithy. The Southern Cross is now preserved in a special glass ‘hangar’ memorial on Airport Drive, near the International Terminal at Brisbane Airport in Queensland, Australia.

The Kit

First released by Frog in 1965 as part of their Trailblazers series, this kit is a Frog re-issue from 1968. If you can find these kits complete and intact, they may be a pretty penny due to their age.  Frog’s Fokker. F VII consists of 61 injection molded parts in a dull silver color which could be intended to simulate aluminum. Also included is a relatively unusual clear plastic display stand for depicting the finished model in flight. The wings in particular appear to have a textured surface to simulate fabric. The fuselage has a nicely simulated, corrugated surface, as do the tail planes and rudder.

There are two seated crew figures for the cockpit, which consists of two seats and a bulkhead — no instrument panel or corresponding decal. There are also two additional larger standing figures which are not to scale, perhaps representing the adventurers who made Southern Cross famous, Charles Kingford Smith and Charles Ulm. The decals are markings for the original Southern Cross, including its registration number, 1985, and includes two Fokker logos. Also included among the markings are warning labels for the two wing-mounted engines harking back to aviation’s early days: “Danger – Keep Clear of Propeller.”

Conclusion

Given its vintage, Southern Cross is predictably lacking in detail. But it is a wonderful kit commemorating an aviation “first,” so it has great historical interest. Highly recommended.

%d bloggers like this: