Black day for Red Baron's planes

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Fokker is one of the oldest names in aircraft manufacturing, writes John Eisenhammer. The Dutch company pioneered the development of passenger aircraft. But to many a British youth brought up on a diet of war comics, the name is associated with the exploits of Germany's First World War fighter ace, the Baron von Richthofen, known as the Red Baron.

Anthony Fokker, the founder, supplied the Red Baron with his famous tri- planes. It was only in 1919, that Fokker was formally founded as a company, going on over three-quarters of a century to design and build 125 different types of aircraft. The Fokker IV made aviation history in 1922 when it crossed the United States from coast to coast.

It gave birth to the eight-seater Fokker VII in 1924 and made the first direct flight from the Netherlands to Dutch Indonesia in the same year.

The death of its founder in December 1939 and the German invasion halted project development during the Second World War, but from 1946 it was rebuilt by the post-occupation government.

The 1960s saw a 10-year marriage to the German aviation company VFW, but recession plunged Fokker into the red and prompted the first of many state bail-outs in 1987, as the company flew into increasing financial turbulence in the highly competitive market for medium-sized commercial aircraft.

With a successful product range, the company was back in the black by 1990 and predicting good times ahead - triggering merger talks with Deutsche Aerospace (DASA), the Daimler Benz subsidiary.

DASA saw the acquisition of Fokker as the means to realise its dream of becoming Europe's leading aircraft manufacturer.

The deal was finally done in March 1993 - by which time Fokker was already on the rack.