The first aircraft

After last week’s blog about seating in the F.XII, this week there’s more on aviation in times gone by.

Although KLM was established on 7 October 1919, the airline didn’t operate its first commercial flight for more than seven months. On 17 May 1920, KLM’s leased De Havilland DH.16 G-EALU (also known as the DH.9A) landed at Schiphol airport, captained by the British pilot H. ‘Jerry’ Shaw.

Picture this: it is March 1920. The deed of incorporation has been signed and flight operations can begin. The KLM Board of Management has established contact with UK-based Aircraft Transport & Travel (AT&T) to discuss the company’s experience with air traffic. The option of jointly operating the first service has also been explored. These extensive discussions finally deliver a charter agreement between KLM and AT&T. As a result, KLM procure aircraft and crew to operate what is to become the Maaldrift–London service. At the time, Maaldrift was a small airport near Wassenaar, home to one of the airline’s founders and financiers.

De Havilland

Photo: KLM/MAI

The De Havilland DH.9A was the first aircraft to be leased. The earliest aircraft of this type had taken to the skies as a fighter plane in 1917. The DH.9A was relatively large, with room for a pilot, a co-pilot/bomber, and a gunner. A number of these aircraft were deployed in the early civil aviation industry. Passengers then occupied the bomber’s position. The plane was modified at a later date, converting the gunner’s position into a (more or less) covered area to carry two passengers – this was the DH.9B. There were very few instruments on board the DH.9 and, in the absence of any radio communications, pilots navigated on the basis of what they could see on the ground, mainly finding their way by following railway lines.
When AT&T went bankrupt in 1920, KLM took over four DH.9Bs for civilian use. While they only flew for KLM for a limited time, they were the very first aircraft in KLM’s fleet.

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Adrian Hills

KLM was responsible for probably the first demonstration of television in an aircraft. In August 1936 16 men from the press were given a demonstration of television whilst the aircraft was in flight which had taken off from Croydon Airport. Baird Television Ltd were responsible for the demonstration and showed a Gaumont British newsreel of the Queen Mary crossing the Atlantic. This demonstration was itself the subject of a GB newsreel.

Adrian Hills PhD

Anne Aston

I am editing a book written by my uncle (born 20.4.1983 died 10.10.1989) but not published. He was in Iraq from 1918 until 1947. I wonder whether anyone can help me, in his book he says and I quote, “Sometime during my first year in Ramadi, a K.L.M. (D.C.9) landed in the desert near my house to refuel. Unfortunately, it broke an undercarriage and the crew descended on me. I remember Herr Aler, a very peasant youth, who in years to come was to be the President of KLM and a charming White Russian pilot. They stayed 2 or 3 days with me while the R.A.F. carried out the necessary repairs and refueled the plane.” I believe the plane was in fact a DH 9. Can anyone confirm for me please?

Claudia Kreiner

It was helpful. Keep on posting!

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