The two unequal Fokker D.VII
A story that only life can write.
I have been through some things in my life and like many others I have a few stories to tell. Maybe some of them are worth reading. My aviation life was in public view most times. Sharing and showing what I do and how and why I do it was always a hobbyhorse to me. Maybe the story I am going to tell you today does sound familiar to one or the other. Maybe a brick or two was missing though and a wrong image was generated by the way the story was told up to now. From time to time it is good to wash some dirty laundry in public for all to see and judge. Maybe this is especially true for things that happened almost two decades ago. The story is about two very special Fokker D.VII's which didn't end the way I thought. And this although it all started rather promising and encouraging. It all reaches way back into the end of 2001 and spring of 2002, when I was contacted by a German banker working for a German Bank in London. He wanted me to build him a Fokker D.VII as authentic as possible. "You are the only one that actually can do it I believe", he said. We had a few meeting and discussions. By that time, I was still working with the German Railroad as a conductor and my financial resources were limited at best. In the end we came up with the idea of building two aircraft, one for him and one for me.
I have been through some things in my life and like many others I have a few stories to tell. Maybe some of them are worth reading.
My aviation life was in public view most times. Sharing and showing what I do and how and why I do it was always a hobbyhorse to me. Maybe the story I am going to tell you today does sound familiar to one or the other. Maybe a brick or two was missing though and a wrong image was generated by the way the story was told up to now. From time to time it is good to wash some dirty laundry in public for all to see and judge. Maybe this is especially true for things that happened almost two decades ago.
The story is about two very special Fokker D.VII's which didn't end the way I thought. And this although it all started rather promising and encouraging.
It all reaches way back into the end of 2001 and spring of 2002, when I was contacted by a German banker working for a German Bank in London. He wanted me to build him a Fokker D.VII as authentic as possible. "You are the only one that actually can do it I believe", he said.
We had a few meeting and discussions. By that time, I was still working with the German Railroad as a conductor and my financial resources were limited at best. In the end we came up with the idea of building two aircraft, one for him and one for me.
Both aircraft had to be certified in the limited special class in Germany as so called Experimental homebuilt aircraft in the "Aerobatics" category according to Section 3 of the German "LuftGerPV".
In this class of certification a commercial use of aircraft to be build is not allowed and every project must be registered by name of a single person which in turn - under certain circumstances that is - must not certify more than three aircraft of the concerned type. Everybody who ever dealt with the certification of a home build in Germany may be familiar with the procedure. Since with two planes built one more at the outermost was possible to be built in the future, we both decided to sign up our own project with the LBA. Each under our own name.
Since there is the well-known rule that a homebuilder has to at least 51% of his aircraft all by himself, my "partner" came up with the idea that he would build 51% of his plane under my guidance and that he will attend all visits by the inspector. Since I am always ready for any "mischief" I agreed. However, it should have been enough of a warning to see which direction we were heading here. But nativity tends to be punished - somehow.
We both worked out a nice little contract. Content of it was to build two almost identical aircraft, one for him, one for me. All material expenses and certification costs of his plane should be paid by himself and all the same cost for my plane I had to pay myself.
As compensation for my work labor and research he was to rent the workshop and pay for all required tools and machines, too. These were supposed to become eventually my own.
Altogether a fair trade as far as I was concerned.
Following a long search, a suitable workshop was found and tooling up began. Getting the tools however proved to be harder than expected. Every time something was needed, I had to double check with my "Partner". He often refused this or that since it was too expensive and caused delays of weeks sometimes. His argument was: "It does not have to be the Ferrari, but also not the Gogomobile. Let´s search further to find the B.M.W." As much as I do agree with this philosophy, it was sometimes a major hold up and delayed things. Now I suspect he knew this and did it intentionally so that I would have to buy tools myself, which I often enough really did.
My shift duty with the railroad enabled me however to invest quite a lot of time into the projects. Therefore, initial progress was good, which also might have spoiled my "partner" a bit. All went like clockwork and I could not have been happier.
Since getting printed camouflage fabric was difficult for both of us, we agreed early in the project start that we shall do replicas of aircraft that would not be in need for this. Therefore, we chose the preproduction aircraft which have been built at Fokker while that printed stuff was not available yet. These planes have been still painted in the well-known Fokker streaky camouflage. I was to do 228/18 and he wanted to have 229/18.
These preproduction aircraft however do have some significant differences compared to serial production planes. The most obvious discrepancy if a downward slope of the fuselage top longeron which started one bay past the cockpit area. On early production planes this moved forward to the cockpit bay.
Since my "Partner" was also focusing on historical accuracy, we discussed my research findings about this and other details and finally agreed on building both frames that way.
As mentioned earlier, I am much into sharing and so we also agreed that I post the daily progress on "The Aerodrome Forum". There were three reasons. One I could show what and how and why I do it, second it served as some kind of construction documentation along with the official build reports for the authorities and third it was a way to report the progress to my "Partner" who was in England.
Many enjoyed the posts, but there were also those who wanted to nag at me. Some may remember all that.
However, the building was in full swing, my project was applied for with the German aviation authorities and it was approved and building registry number assigned. Inspector for he build was Hartmut Samet of Heubach and his first visits and inspection was due soon.
By now the project application by my "Partner" for his project was still missing. I told him that it would be required, and that the inspector could not sign off his project parts as long as it is not officially a registered project.
"I´ll do that next!" was his response referring to the project application.
Well, the inspector came and checked out the so far done bits and pieces of my project and cleared them for further processing. The building logs were signed and stamped by him.
My "Partner" despite of having said so, did not attend his visit.
All the parts of my "Partner" were also inspected by him and approved verbally, but the stamps and signature had been denied for it was not a project to be certified. No problem could be done with his next visit.
Two airplanes came together step by step. One was a certifiable project, the other was not registered and thus slipped slowly into uncertifiable.
In the meantime, my "partner" was able to obtain some printed fabric. I suppose he got it from Ross Walton at that time. He showed it proudly to me and brought it to my place. He told me that he is happy and now finally can really replicate Willy Gabriel's paint scheme on his plane. He even built a model in 1/32 scale to make eventually sure I would paint his plane correctly.
I think this was the first time he realized it is not historically correct and can´t be done. I explained to him that we have decided on the preproduction fuselage version and that the fuselage cannot be changed that easily. He tried to talk me into simply modifying the built fuselage by cutting here and welding there. He did not seem to realize that this kind of modification at that very location on the fuselage was much more complicated than making a fuselage longer or shorter. This was what he had read in books and was described as being simple advantage of welded structures. After some discussion he agreed to leave the structure as is and to from now on doing all details according to early serial production machines on his frame.
Unwillingly I did. For this reason, his fuselage ended up having the typical preproduction fuselage dent and early serial production low mounted machineguns. A lot of other details of those two mixed variants gave reason for some complaints on the forum.
It was due to the remarks on the Forum by others which pointed out these discrepancies that he realized he screwed up on it since he left his path of historical accuracy. It was not an easy task for me at that time in the evenings creating my Forum posts. On the one hand showing my own plane staying true to historical correct features and his plane with all the mixed-up details. People started even to get confused about what plane was what. On the other hand, my posts should not make him look silly because of his decisions made in incompetence.
At one point his own mishap must have annoyed him extremely. He was so upset about his own fuselage, that he demanded a new one made. He however was not willing to buy the materials for this one, I was supposed to pay for it since it was me who built his "wrong" fuselage. He started to make remarks about my work quality on the Forum - I suppose in order to make me give in and rather build a new fuselage for him at my own expense than risking losing my reputation. But this is not how an Engels functions. Furthermore he started to pay less and less of things he was supposed to pay for. I was forced to buy more and more on my own. Occasionally he bought some stuff just to keep the faith.
This was the point when I should have stopped working with/for him. His project still was not applied for certification, although I urged him to do so. I could not stop working for him however, since my plane also stood in the Workshop and he paid the rent still. A good way to apply pressure.
As a Railroader you do not earn a lot and thus the project was delayed unnecessary. This in turn poured water onto the mills of those who nagged at me on the Forum. My "partner" also joined in into that chorus and blamed me for it all.
And so, the months and years passed by. Little by little the bird built its nest.
Slowly the planes came together. My one a bit faster than his, because he only every now and then bought materials.
To give up and cancel was not an option, because my daily postings put me in the limelight. He knew that. Bad enough progress slowed down, but to fully stop would have exposed me to laughter. "Look, just as we said, just a plan talker!" would have been the stupid reactions. Terribly enough it was obvious for outsiders that Engels´ only goal was to push his own project forward, while the poor banker was pulled over the table. Everyone could see that Engels was focusing on his plane more than on the one of his "poor" partner. This by the way was one of the reasons I eventually gave also up posting there, since truth got no forum there.
I was near to explode quite a few times and to shout out the truth from the rooftop, but my dear Alexandra always held me back and encouraged me to continue. Not again with this guy, when this is through was a promise, I made to her.
And so, I carried on with my monthly railroad salary and the help of my family.
It must have been around Christmas 2004 when one evening the phone rang. A well-known person from New Zealand was calling me, asking if I would not want to build planes for him. This eventually became another "lovely" story I may tell nextime.
Anyhow, all of a sudden, I found myself in the position to quit working with the Railroad and to build aircraft full time.
What a life!
12 hours a day in the workshop, eight of these working for the New Zealander. Suddenly things moved forward.
And the Forum was happy to see more and more frequent posts.
My aircraft grew, too! The one of my "partner" not so fast. He stopped paying almost completely. I pulled his project along. Slowly and on second place, of course, but what could he expect?
Well, he expected that now with greater income I should build his plane - faster! He was paying the rent and the longer it all took the more expenses he had - of course neglecting that he was the major course of delay - loosing time trying to gain profit. After all, 2018 was closing in and he dreamt of making big money by flying on airshows and doing film work etc...
It was clear, this would not work out.
He was of different opinion and tried to push my labor on his plane forward by talking bad about me in the Forum. His idea was also to drive a wedge between me and the New Zealander and to force me to work more to avoid bad comments by him. His plan sort of worked in the end.
By all means he eventually even threatened me to stop paying rent for the workshop and to take away all the tools he claimed to have bought. That was emotional blackmail of the finest.
The connections with the New Zealander put me into a position to no longer fear his threats and to continue on my own. Profit was never my interest and so I decided to change the contract for the renting of the workshop to my name and to buy all further tools and machines on my own (changing the rent contract should be proof enough of his real intentions. Since he rented the workshop why would the landlord accept the change, if he had not agreed to him about it? Saving another buck and increase the profit was his goal...let stupid Engels do this). The very first big tool I bought was a band saw. A nice thing. He later even claimed he had paid for it.
To finally make him stop to nag on me in public I sent him an e-mail in which I told him, that from now on he would not have to pay anything for his plane anymore and that I will finish it at my own expense, but at the pace and priority I determine.
With this he obviously was happy for the moment.
Behind my back however he slowly established ties to the New Zealanders, and he managed to put a bug into their ears. I know this firsthand, since Peter sent several e-mails in which he urged me to fulfill my "obligations" with the banker. He called that "Pep talk!". This was a new term to me at the time and indicates he did not get what was really going on. Of course, did I try to set things right, but I failed miserably, obviously.
How big the influence against me in New Zealand actually was I only realized when it was too late. By now I do know all that was talked about me there and by whom.
The build continued. Meanwhile I was working on two more D.VIIs two E.IIIs and D.VIIIs for Peter, organized the reprinting of printed aircraft fabric, worked out Replicas of the Rumpler C.IV and the Pfalz D.III and IIIa, prepared and tooled up for their making, worked on Fokker C.Is also.
All was good, until...
...the banker started to snipe again at me for the progress on his plane - despite the fact he did not have to pay anything anymore - was too slow for him. He started to slur on me in Public and in the forum. I committed some legal errors here due to my bonhomie. But I prefer these much over the fact to look into a mirror and see a face like his.
It ended up that I finally had my fill and asked him to pick up "his" plane which was still not yet registered for the certification process and was not certifiable thus. I would not continue under such circumstances to work on his plane. By that time the wings of my own plane were done. His were not yet, but I decided, for good sake, since I told him I would finish his plane, to give my wings to him, so that he had an almost complete plane.
His fuselage was so screwed up in different versions by now because of his own stupidity, that he demanded earlier to have one of the fuselages I built for Peter instead. Peter would not realize that he said. I would not do that of course, since it was all his fault, not mine nor Peter´s.
I was happy when the plane was gone. To be honest I do not even know if the wings fit that fuselage since they have been fitted to my fuselage before. But he agreed to have those wings which are by the way those later famous Mossie-Wings.
He had the plane picked up by a forwarding company. 14 days later I received a letter by a small advocate he hired. It was obviously a friend of his. In this letter that guy threatened me to sue me for damages as high as 500.000 Euros, for he now was not able to create his pre calculated income by flying the plane on airshows and commercials and such. But the letter also demanded that I fulfill my obligation of finishing the plane as per the e-mail I sent, since they considdered that e-mail a oficial change of the contract we had. This includes the engine of course and so he wanted to sneak a Mercedes out of it on top. Furthermore, I shall forward all the build logs and certification documents for my own project since these would be required to have his certified and those documents would not have been handed over when the plane was picked up. Of course, not - it was not even a registered project with the German Aviation authorities for he did never apply for this. However, he wanted all the glueing samples, welding certificates Inspection stamps which have been done and labeled for my registered project. He and his little lawyer either did not understand the matter or they simply tried to take advantage wherever possible. And last but not least he provided a list of all tools and material and machines purchased during the project that he claimed he paid according to the contract. Good thing this did not work out for him, since I held most of the invoices and the bank confirmed that I paid it all, not he. If this is attempted fraud was never investigated
For somebody like me, who never had an interest in money at all, this was a shock. All of a sudden there was essential fear for my existence. Not a good feeling.
Today I am well aware that letters outside of the court by a lawyer is nothing but bluff in order to scare you. Over time I was not hit for anything by this guy. There is no file case number at all that could proof the opposite. He stirred up the shit, made things up, poured sand in the eyes, while he plays the innocent and naive little boy who was tricked for his beloved toy. And I know he still acts like that.
At that time, it was unbelievable to me and shattered the mind. It really was grueling. Not just for me, but my entire family.
And so, I thought: Attack is the best defense. And so, I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life. I went to see a lawyer. She was pretty, but that was about that.
I wanted her to check out by court trial and to have a judge decide whether this guy was right in exploiting a craftsman like that. If it was right, I wanted to step back and give in. If it was wrong, I either wanted back my wings I gave to him or at least the amount of money I did put into those wings materials to make them, so that I was able to make new ones for my plane at least.
Unfortunately, she formulated her legal letter and claim in her lawyer's language so that it was read like I wanted both, the money and the wings.
I have hired her and therefore this obviously was what I intended. So, this was told by the judge. Therefore, the judge suggested to me to abandon the lawsuit. O.K. this I did, of course. To me the case was closed then. Lady Justice is always right, even if she is not. Shall he keep my wings then.
Of course, this also backfired at me later on. But it also backfired for him, since he was not able to get all my certification documents for the project I filed.
He was pissed off even more by that and started to act against me wherever possible. In New Zealand he created a lot of confusion about the possibility of having anything certified I built, for he claimed his plane was uncertifiable. No one there double checked with the German Authorities on that, else it would have been easy to see he did not even apply for certification. This is why his plane was not certifiable under German law. They just believed his stupid stories. Meanwhile two More D.VII were delivered to them, the E.IIIs, too. The D.VIIIs flew already (No news on their website about the making of these as announced yet, though).
With my "friends" in New Zealand this caused a wildfire. It started a whole lot of double checking and bookkeeping . But the worst of it all was the claim of the banker I would have doubled invoiced them. Based on this simple silly claim the bookkeepers started an offensive I never believed possible. They double checked everything and had us provide information on the smallest screw and bolt, just to make sure they did not pay for it while it went into another project. Each and every TVAL Job number was evaluated and checked up into the smallest item.
Their lawyers, not able to double check with the German Aviation Authorities about whether the bankers plane does have a project registry number or not, even called the German prosecutor of state and one morning at about half past five they stormed my house in search for all documents related to TVAL. They took it all with them and studied them for weeks and months. Lucky me I had it all nicely archived and listed, all by day and month. My bookkeeping was good also. Neither in New Zealand, nor the German prosecutor could find any indication of double invoicing. How could I ? I was so happy to build airplanes; how could I betray the New Zealanders?
No excuse however....the banker - he got away with his false accusation. Slippery as an eel.
That case was dropped, damage was done....almost broke a man. Ten years I was silent about it.
That story is so unbelievable! All because of lies by one single person which have been believed by the New Zealanders. His lies even went as far as to imply I was under watch of the German authorities for my right-wing behavior! Unbelievable, who believes this shit simply because it is said? This only can do a person like that King Eomer in "Lord of the Rings"...Well show me your friends and I tell you who you are. To put things right was not possible. That King would not even listen, too. It was all handed out to lawyers and managers and bankers. Oh boy!
I have not heard much about the little banker since then except that he again is a poor victim. I know of course what he is up to and that he was able to profit big time from his lies and disguises. To be honest, I just pity him.
The worst however was still to come.
The German prosecutor wanted still something from me. The fact that my lawyer abandoned my lawsuit against the banker since she claimed both the wings and the money was considered attempted fraud. Simply because if you file a lawsuit and abandon it during the trial, it suggests you knew from the beginning it would not stand a chance. Taking back such a lawsuit is an attempted fraud in this system.
So now I am here. Due to a mis formulated lawsuit by my lawyer I am a convicted criminal sentenced to half a year of prison on two years of suspended sentence. Some may laugh now, but it sure is not fun if you are in these shoes. And all of that just because a small banker is disappointed for, he screwed up most of it by himself. The fact that my lawyer committed a mistake and transferred back the entire fees for this case that I paid, did not play a role in that law case either. You have hired her and provided the power of attorney to her, so whatever she did she did on your behalf. If she was doing wrong, start a new lawcase...I wanted justice not a lawcase to feed the lawyers and fill their fridges. Lesson learned.
But this all is not the end of the story of the two aircraft.
There he stood, our banker with a partially finished plane (No court ordered me to finish it for him, what certainly would have been the point of his lawsuit against me had it ever taken place as many claim and as he announced in his letters to me). It could not be certified, because he did not apply for the certification process ever. Possibly the two wings that were built initially for my own plane would not fit without some extra work since they never have been even test fitted to his frame.
What to do with it? His first thought was to bring it to New Zealand and to let his new friend take care of its finishing. But the New Zealander was busy with the accusation of my planes being not airworthy at all. And how should one justify having a plane finished of which he himself claimed would not be certifiable due to bad workmanship - difficult. The New Zealanders eventually came up with the fact that the planes are all good. Their own engineers did severe tests because of the banker's claims. And rightly so. It is importantto investigate if any doubt comes up. It is alive that goes up there. Warrick in the design room there at Kemp Street and at Masterton put a lot of time into this and found all woods and steels used to be of the required materials and the workmanship as extraordinary.
So, this opportunity was no longer available to our banker whithout seeing his lies fall apart.
Apart from that, when I did the wings for my aircraft, I had a friend, a regular visitor to my place, Gerry Mos, who helped me with some hands-on work. His mascot is a little mosquito and so the idea came up of signing one wing rib with his little "Mossie". He did and we were all very happy about the wing and proud of it, too.
But now the banker wanted his airplane and to show good will even in this situation, I decided to give the wings I built to him, since his wings yet have not been made. I would make new ones. Easy enough for me.
And to avoid his own lie of the aircraft I built being uncertifiable, he now started to spread the word about those "Mossie"-Wings which would be the only useful thing in his plane. All other parts made by Engels were no good at all and built like crap. They claimed that my planes would "not even be possible to be register under German law", just so as if German law would be less restrictive than NZ law. The Funny part is, that when he mentioned the "Mossie" Wings in New Zealand, no one there wondered what that might be. I have been told that they never asked who that "Mossie" was. So easy did he slip through with that.
And this at the same time was his explanation for the need of an entirely new fuselage. Remember, he was not happy about his mixed-up pre-production early plane fuselage frame at all for he realized this could never pass through in Gabriel's colors. His precaution to avoid his lies becoming obvious was so great that he decided midway not to bring the wings to New Zealand. After all my brand mark would be seen all over those "Mossie"-Wings.
For some time, the wings then were stored with Dirk Bende in Germany, then here and there until they finally found their way to Koloman Mayrhofer at Vienna. There Koloman had a fuselage from another former project that he used for the banker´s plane now. Of course, fitting new tail feathers, undercarriage and other interior things had to made for this frame, too. But still it is not a Fokker fuselage, but a mere mix of details featured in Albatros, O.A.W. and Fokker planes. And of course, not to forget those unairworthy Engels wings which suddenly became airworthy by labeling them as "Mossie"-Wings.
I have no idea though at the moment what happened to the preproduction fuselage that came with that project, but it is easy to identify if it pops up in another project at some later time.
It is a truly unbelievable story. I really wonder how the certification of the banker's plane will be done. If the German Aviation Authorities or any other aviation authority that takes care of the certification knows that the original building logs for these wings are still with me, that the built is documented by photographs at my place and that most parts of the wings are hand signed by me. Who might have provided the certification documents for these wings? Who provided the glueing samples for the certification of these wings? And who is the Inspector that signed it off?
Well, well, well...we will see. Chaos is harvested by those who plant it. I just hope Koloman Mayrhofer is informad about it all properly. I know he knows these are wings made by me since I have asked him.
Ironically enough the new plane I built that was recently finished by Fred Murrin for the New Zealanders has got the livery of Willy Garbriel´s plane - the paint scheme the banker wanted for his plane all the time. No use of having two of these now. But since the fuselage features lot of Albatros details anyway, he may have decided for another paints scheme meanwhile.
And since the headline of the story goes "Two unequal D.VIIs", I still owe you an insight into what happened to the other plane.
This aircraft still is with me. And it remained true to be a preproduction aircraft. It is as much as I can tell a as close as possible copy of the preproduction plane Fok. D.VII 228/18.
The aircraft originally registered for certification with the German Aviation Authorities (LBA) and got a project number there. It went officially through the first two exams of the registry process. This means it passed all load and construction tests successfully!
When the trouble with the New Zealanders was caused by the banker, he achieved his goal and all other projects that were in full swing have been canceled one sided by them, regardless of contracts we had. They just broke the agreements. This made it impossible for me to continue with my own projects for quite a while.
This guy has destroyed a whole lot. Just for self-interest. Just like most bankers are. As a consequence of this I decided to pull out of all business that required money and set up a new life based on real values only. Rather than creating something really big that attracts piranhas I decided to go small and create little things, like my own museum in which eventually also 228/18 will has a home.
But I am proud that - now that one more of my built D.VIIs in New Zealand flies - the house of cards of lies and false accusations falls apart. I am also proud on all I have achieved since that time. It was lots of fun and still is.
I build planes that can fly, regardless of what fairy tales a little banker will spread.
And now you know the other side of the story.