stamps from the Netherlands
The 1933 Special Flights airmail stamp
The NvPH airmail #10 / Scott C10 airmail stamp from 1933 is a very intersting stamp. It's shape alone, triangular makes it standout. Then there is the story behind the stamp, that is far more than the simple description "Fokker Pander" in Scott.
This description makes no sense and is incomprehensible without a lot of background knowledge of Dutch aviation history. For instance, there has never been a Fokker airplane called Pander. The stamp was issued in October 1933 for two special flights to Batavia that were to be made later that year. The stamp was for the extra postage needed to send your card or letter on the special flights. But things turned out to be less straight forward than expected. It was a long story, but interesting. So here we go.
1. the story behind itIn the early 1930s the KLM, the Royal Dutch Airline, had already established a steady postal service to the colonies, the Netherlands Indies ('the east'). In those days a flight from Amsterdam to Batavia took - if all went according to schedule - 12 days, which was considered an achievement in itself.
But, the service was not profitable at all. The Fokker F-VII airplanes could only carry a few passengers and the ticketprices were kept artificially low, too low to make a profit. The real moneymaker on the flights was the mailservice. The Dutch postal service PTT had guaranteed 500 kgs of mail per flight and paid 50 guilders per kg for the transport. This meant that the mailservice brought the KLM 50,000 guilders each returnflight, much more than those few paying passengers could ever be good for.
The enormous profits on the mailservice caught the attention of a young aviation engineer, Dirk Asjes, who figured that it should be possible to make even larger profits by using a smaller but faster airplane without passengers to transport mail only. The mail could be delivered much faster so more mail could be transported. More mail, more profit! Asjes went looking for an airplane that could do the job. First he considered the Lockheed Orion, a single-engine plane with a cruising speed of 300 km/h and a payload of 500 kgs. It was much faster than the current Fokker F-XVIII that had 3 engines but only flew at 210 km/h. The Orion was dumped quickly though, because the single engine was considered to risky.
After some time he gets in contact with the Pander furniture factory. Pander has just made its first steps in the boom industry of the 1930s, aviation, and has ears to build a plane for the mailroute. The design consists of a triple-engined airplane that will fly at 300 km/h. At that speed the route to Batavia can be done in 50 flying hours.
While the Pander designers are working on the new plane, Asjes tries to get sponsors for his project. Obviously the KLM is not very keen, competition on its mailroute will lower its profits, perhaps resulting in the end of the KLM Batavia-route.
In 1933 Pander starts building the Pander Postjager, as it is called, and the Pander factory tries to do its utmost to have the new plane flying in December so it can compete in the extra Christmas flight to Batavia that has already been planned by the KLM.
2. preparing for the KLM-Christmasflight 1933Early 1933 the KLM proudly announces a new model for its long distance lines, the Fokker F-XX "Zilvermeeuw". The airplane has been designed by Fokker, the leading airplane factory of the moment, as a break from the current models. The fuselage is much more aerodynamic and the landinggear is retractable, for the first time. The new model will do some testflights on the European routes in the summer and will then try to do a recordbreaking flight to Batavia to bring the Christmas mail to the Dutchmen in the colonies and will pickup the mail for the family backhome on its return. The KLM sets the public relations machines in motion and sets the date for the historic flight at December 18th. In the meantime tests continue and the pilot, Smirnoff, and the engineers are not impressed. There are many problems, in particular with the engines. Even at the last testflight at November 23rd the engines fail and an emergency landing has to be made.
3. meanwhile at Pander'sWhile KLM is already flying its new airplane, at Pander's factory work continues to finish the Postjager in time. Earlier that year the Pander-team has chosen December 9th as departure date for their flight. The maildelivery has become a contest.
During the construction it becomes apparent that building a triple-engine plane is a new experience for Pander. So far they have only made lightweight sportsplanes, and due to all kinds of setbacks it's already October 6th when the new airplane can be rolled out of the hangars. Soon a few nasty problems with the design emerge: the speed is only 280 km/h, which means that the predicted avantage over the Fokker is far less than expected. The lift of the wings is also less than calculated, it takes a long time for the airplane to take off. This might cause problems on the short runways in the far east. The biggest problem is the lack of variable pitch propellers. But there is no time to wait for the arrival of those from the USA, the airplane must leave at the scheduled date.
4. the flight of the Pander PostjagerThe Pander-team had suffered a number of financial setbacks as well. The Ministry of War had promised to buy the airplane if it could be delivered before November 15th. This deadline can not be met, so the team has to gamble their investment can be won back with the profits from the maildelivery. Here is another setback. Only 271 kgs out of the available 500 kgs are to be taken to Batavia. Still spirits are high when the airplane takes off from Schiphol airport in the early morning of Saturday 9 December 1933.
The first leg of the flight goes well. Without delay Rome is reached where new fuel is loaded. After only one hour at the Rome airfield the Postjager leaves for Athens. Suddenly there is panic in the cockpit. The oilpressure in the right engine has dropped and in order to prevent complete loss of the engine it is shut off. But now the lack of variable pitch comes into play: the propellers keep on turning because there is no feathered pitch. The crew decides to return to Italy and land in Brindisi. After a quick inspection it turns out the engine is lost. There is no spare engine available in Italy, or even Europe. A telegram to the Curtiss-Wright factory in the USA learns that they have exactly one in stock, which is promptly crated and sent on a ship to Italy. The expected date of arrival in Naples is December 22nd.
The Pander Postjager Christmasflight is effectively over...
A card sent to the crew, stuck in South Italy. It shows the special airmailstamp #10
5. the flight of the F-XX ZilvermeeuwThe attention of the public now focuses on the Zilvermeeuw. The KLM flight will leave on December 18th and in the early morning the airplane is prepared for takeoff. The engines are started and just as the four crewmembers want to board their plane the central engine starts to sound strange. It sputters and stops. The plane is quickly rolled back into the hangar and the problem is found. a cog-wheel has broken and there are no spare-parts. Assembly will take at least 24 hours, so the F-XX Christmasflight has ended before it even started.
With the Pander stranded in Italy and the Zilvermeeuw refusing to even leave the ground, something needs to be done to get the mail delivered. Quickly the first available airplane is made ready and only 2 hours after the Zilvermeeuw flight was called of the F-XVIII Pelikaan (Pelican) leaves for its recordflight. It's a standard plane, so it lacks the speed of both stranded airplanes, but the pilots will try to make up for it by scrapping all scheduled rests and continue flying at night, as far as that is not too risky. The flight of the Pelican is a heroic story, after 100 hours of almost continuous flight it lands in Batavia, setting the record for the fastest mailflight.
6. the triangular airmail stampWhen the 1933 Christmas mailrace was over, the special flights airmail stamps was no longer made available. Only at special flights, like the first flight to the Netherlands Antilles one year later, the public could buy it.
To return to the Scott catalogue description: As we have learned Fokker and Pander were competitors, the description 'Fokker Pander' is stupid. The design on the stamp shows neither the Fokker F-XX nor the Pander Postjager. It is a fantasy single engine plane, where both competitors were 3-engined.
7. what happened to the Postjager and ZilvermeeuwThe modern airplanes that were meant to battle for the mailflight supremacy on the Schiphol-Batavia route both ended less than glorious. It is only December 27th when the new engine is fitted in the Postjager and the flight can continue. On December 31st it lands in Batavia. The crowd is enthousiastic, the crew has less to celebrate. They know that the Pelican has returned to Schiphol the day before. The return flight is less problematic, although the engines are not completely reliable. On January 11th the Postjager has returned to Schiphol, ending a dramatic attempt to challenge the KLM monopoly.
The Zilvermeeuw, failing at the moment supreme, is used a few years on the European routes before it is sold to a French company in 1936. This company turns out to be a front for the Spanish republican party, who uses it to transport the Spanish goldreserves from Spain to France. In 1937 it is damaged after an attack by Spanish rightwing terrorists. It is repaired, painted in camouflage colours and returns to Spain where it is hated by the pilots for its poor behaviour and terrible engines. Later in the Civil War it is destroyed, some reports say by a aerial bombardment, others claim the pilots destroyed it themselves because it was such a bad airplane...