A Gruelling 127-Hour Flight

Posted by at 15:00

Nowadays, passengers who want to get to Jakarta tomorrow, board an aircraft today. But things were very different less than 100 years ago. The journey took weeks by sea and aircraft flew no further than Paris. Surely there was a faster way. In an effort to prove just that KLM and Fokker joined forces with others in 1923 to fly to Indonesia – known formerly as the Dutch East Indies. Having bid farewell to the last Fokker aircraft in the KLM fleet in October 2017, this blog goes back to the pioneering period in which KLM and Fokker cooperated intensively.

Fokker F. VII

United in the “Comité Vliegtocht Nederlandsch-Indies” (Flight Committee for the Dutch East Indies), preparations for the first trip were initiated. Almost everything was new. The Fokker aircraft plant specially designed a new aircraft type: the Fokker F. VII. Consideration was also needed for very practical matters. Where should the plane land en route? Would fuel resources there be sufficient or should they be brought along? What if something were to happen? KLM put forward Captain Jan Thomassen à Thuessink van der Hoop who, together with Lieutenant Pilot Van Weerden Poelman and flight engineer Van de Broeke formed the three-headed crew. A year later, the preparations were ready to fly the “H-NACC” to Indonesia.

Three pioneers

On 1 October 1924, loads of enthusiasts came to wave the three adventurers off from Schiphol. After getting off to a good start, the plane had to make an emergency landing in Eastern Europe after only a few days. For a moment, the adventure seemed over. Fortunately, money was quickly collected in the Netherlands for a new engine. After flying more than 15,000 km in 55 days, clocking 127 flight hours and numerous intermediate stopovers, the plane touched down in Jakarta on 24 November 1924. The pioneers were given a hero’s welcome: they demonstrated that it was possible to bridge such a long distance with the aircraft.

Adventure

After the extraordinary flight, Van der Hoop wrote the book “Door de lucht naar Indië” (Through the sky to the Dutch East Indies). The travel journal reads like an adventurous book. It was quite a job, for example, to let the home front know the aircraft had been hit by engine trouble. During the day, the pilots had to search for railways, church towers and other landmarks to know they were still on course. Flying at night was impossible. There were meetings with local residents and in Myanmar the plane even had to land on a racecourse – just before the race was held.

Iconic

The return journey was a lot less intense than the outward journey: the “H-NACC” was disassembled and transported to Europe by ship with the crew. An ironic end to an iconic journey! Fokker and KLM continued to work together after the trip and in 1929 the scheduled service between Amsterdam and Batavia was opened – operated using Fokker aircraft. This connection would serve as KLM’s most important route until after the Second World War.

Are you curious to find out more about Fokker’s later aircraft in KLM’s fleet? On bidding farewell to the Fokker 70, colleague and former Fokker pilot Charley Valette wrote a book entitled “Farewell Fokker 70: Dutch at Heart.

Having now phased out the Fokker 70, KLM no longer has any Fokker aircraft in its fleet: this marks the end of an era.

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35 Responses to A Gruelling 127-Hour Flight

  1. Max-Henrik Krause

    Interesting article! I love these stories about all the pioneers and about an era that wont come again. Thank you

    • Nick van Rijn

      Thank you Max-Henrik for your kind response!

  2. Boudewien Hoynck

    Great article, learned a lot!
    Thank you ✈️

    • Nick van Rijn

      Thank you! :)

  3. EMUAKPEJEKESSENA

    HI KLM LOVE

    • Nick van Rijn

      Happy to hear!

  4. Merel

    Leuk Nick! Keep writing✨

    • Nick van Rijn

      Thanks Merel!

  5. Elene

    Super leuk Nick!

    • Nick van Rijn

      Thanks Elene!

  6. Medine

    Great article!!

    • Nick van Rijn

      Thank you Medine!

  7. Jorge Rojas

    Very very interesting…………..

    • Nick van Rijn

      Happy to hear that Jorge Rojas!

  8. Karin Wright

    I know all about this AWESOME flight times in 1953!!!
    3 DAYS from London to Singapore… It was not K L M but B O A C!!! I don’t recall how many re-fulling stops but I do remember 1 overnight stay in Dakar.

    • Jimmy Bindon

      Dakar ? that was a stop on the South Atlantic run to Buenos Aires, perhaps your are confused with another trip. and yes , plenty of fuelling stops and overnight stays along the route then.

    • -Tom Jacobs-

      You refer to a flight from 1953, but the Batavia flight this article tells about, dates back almost 30 years earlier, to 1924. The British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) was only created in 1940. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines was founded in 1919; it is the oldest airline in the world still operating under its original name, and despite having been sold to the French, still is the pride of the Dutch nation.

  9. Karin Wright

    Hope to be traveling with K L M again very soon…

    • Nick van Rijn

      Would be great Karin!

  10. jeremy burton

    Reference to Myanmar is not historically accurate as it was still British Burma in the 1920s.
    In the early 1980s i was sitting in the transfer bus in Don Muang Bangkok airport waiting to board a flight to Rangoon (now Yangon) when i received a teletype message from KLM advising me that my later flight out of Burma was cancelled. i had to take an immediate decision to abort the trip because you could only get 7 day visas then and, as most European airlines’ aircraft were then too large to fly into and out of Rangoon, I was not certain of an escape route back to Europe.. I recollect KL was operating DC8s on the route at the time.

    • Nick van Rijn

      Thank you Jeremy for your feedback and sharing your own interesting story!

      I decided to refer to Myanmar instead of British Burma, hence Indonesia instead of The Dutch East Indies and Jakarta instead of Batavia. Although not historically accurate, I was hoping to make it more convinient for all readers – as not everyone is that much into colonial history! :)

      • jeremy burton

        nor as ;long in the tooth; as me travelling since KLM was only 50 years old almost fifty years ago.

        • Nick van Rijn

          :)

  11. Alan Boyle

    Enjoyed the article very much, but there must be another story about the 55 days; where they stayed over night, unscheduled stops, repairs on the run, the receptions that they received along the way, eating and other necessaties along the way, how they communicated back to The Netherlands etc. It would make interesting reading about the full adventure by this brave crew.

    • Nick van Rijn

      Hi Alan, I will keep that in mind! The book will tell you all about it, a most-read if you’re interested!

  12. Theo

    Is the book “Door de lucht naar indie” someware availlable?

    • Nick van Rijn

      For sure! I found it via the UvA (University of Amsterdam) library, but I’m pretty confident both the Stadsarchief / Maria Austria Instituut and OBA (Public library of Amsterdam) have copies.

  13. Kitty Holwerda-van den Broeke

    Beste Nick. Leuk om dit zeer herkenbare verhaal te lezen. Piet van den Broeke was namelijk mijn opa. De bemanning is inderdaad als helden ontvangen in het verre Indië. Ook bij aankomst in Nederland zijn ze nog menigmaal gehuldigd.

    • Nick van Rijn

      Kitty wat onzettend leuk om te horen. Zijn er nog interessante bronnen / artefacten in de familie of zijn het vooral nog de verhalen die verteld zijn? :)

  14. Len M

    I have taken the CGK-various points via AMS flight a number of times now – 13 not-too-unpleasant hours. What a different world we inhabit now. On the other hand, commercial aviation is a significant producer of greenhouse gases, and needs to be more industrious in reducing emissions.

    • Nick van Rijn

      Fair point Len! Times do have have changed tremendously.

  15. Caitlin

    Where two passions meet: history and travel!

    • Nick van Rijn

      Thanks Caitlin!

  16. Rob van Albada

    In 1954, almost 30 years after the first flight, KLM flew Super Constellations to Jakarta. The flight lasted 72 hours (42 hours flying, 30 hours stops). When I flew (in summer) we had the followong stops : Amsterdam, Geneve, Rome, Beirut, Karachi, Calcutta, Bangkok, Singapore, Jakarta. On the way back we had engine trouble and had to stay for 36 hours in Calcutta, in the Grand Hotel Calcutta (now the Oberoi Grand). Later it turned out that nothing had been wrong with the engines but that the oil supply line to the engines was at fault. In Karachi we were taken by bus to the KLM hotel, where we could take a bath (mandi). I had never mandi’d before, but fortunately my neighbour, who was from Sumatra, could explain how to use the water tank.
    I flew first class, because as I was still at school I got 50 pct off, which made may ticket cheaper than Tourist Class (Economy did not yet exist, neither did Business Class). On the way back my neighbour (the son of our Consul in Hong Kong; I don’t know his name unfortunately) were allowed in the cockpit. I remember seeing the coast of Iran and the Gulf area, with the oil tankers near Basra, the ‘rivers’ Eufrates and Tigris, only rather poor streams of water with surrounding green lands in the midst of light brown desert, desert, desert.

    • Nick van Rijn

      Thanks Rob for sharing this interesting history. Was it tiresome or did you enjoyed the whole trip? Being able to experience all that sounds like a everlasting experience to me!

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