Page 3 of 5
3. A good start and good prospects
On April 5, 1971 the roll-out of the first prototype, G01 D-BABA was done in Bremen, this under overwhelming interest of the international aeronautical press. Fokker was present with the F27 and F28. The crowning event of the whole spectacle was that the engines were started and that the G01 taxied away under its own power!
Those engines, type M45H-01, of Rolls-Royce/Snecma, were namely the cause of some delay. The original roll-out was planned for March, and the maiden flight in May. At the beginning of 1971 Rolls-Royce had gone bankrupt due to the development of the RB211 engine for the Lockheed L-1011 Tristar. After the government bail-out in England and Rolls-Royce continued as Rolls-Royce '71, they could proceed with the development of the 614 engine, which had been suspended temporarily. The German Government, which had already footed 50% of the development costs of the engine, even had to make an extra contribution to Rolls-Royce '71! So that is why there was some scepticism by the attendants, if the engines that were installed for the roll-out were 'real'. The rumour was that it were mock-ups or dummies. Thus VFW simply decided to give living proof in this way!
At that moment it looked bright for the VFW 614: there had been about 26 options taken by nine airlines. Amongst them were two German ones: Bavaria Fluggesellschaft and General Air.
On July 14, 1971 did the VFW 614 make its first flight.
Unique was in this case, that as far as I know, it has not occurred earlier, but neither later, that a new type of airplane and a new type of engine were making the maiden flight at the same time.
The jet-age for short distance flights had dawned. In those days it was still called commuter or third-level feeder liner. The deregulation in the United States was not even on the horizon. And the word 'Regional-jet' had not been invented yet. According to Fokker-VFW aircraft in this class of small civil aviation jetplanes had a total market projection of about 1700 units, to be delivered during the period between 1971 and 1981. With the VFW 614 they were expecting to capture a market share of about 20%, being 350-400 planes.
The 614 had no significant competitors; the only plane with a similar capacity was the Yakolev Yak 40. And the VFW did not consider that one a serious competitor.
But before it was that far, the airworthyness certification test programme had to be performed. It was planned to fly some 1200 hours divided over three prototypes.
The G01 had become damaged in October 1971 during a so-called flutter test. Small rockets at the tip of the horizontal stabiliser are ignited in opposite directions. Thus that part of the plane is brought into a short vibration. The result of the test has to be, that the stabiliser itself has to dampen the vibrations. Unfortunately this did not occur; during a short period the vibrations increased, the plane started to flutter. Luckily it passed soon; test pilot Leif Nielsen got the plane back under control. After the landing the matter was investigated and it appeared that the stabiliser was broken at three places. The plane had to be repaired and the tail had to be re-inforced. A flutter damper was mounted as well.
Meanwhile, the second prototype, G02, D-BABB, made its first flight on January 14, 1972.
On February 1, 1972 a simple verification flight was planned. It was the intention to see what the effect of the alterations of the tail would have on the airworthyness. The two hour lasting flight was executed by Leif Nielsen, Captain, with Hans Bardill as Copilot and Jurgen Hammer as Flight Engineer.
Towards the end of the flight, during the approach to the airport, the plane started unexpectedly to flutter severely. It was that serious, that after a short attempt to try to get the plane under control, Leif gave the order: "get out!" All three were able to abandon the plane via the slide/emergency exit. Bardill's parachute did not open; unfortunately he fell to his death. The G01 dove down with high speed and disappeared in a large crater that it made in the middle of the field.
Because of the crash of the first prototype and the investigation for its cause, the certification flights were halted for about six months. Both prototypes were flown to Fokker, Schiphol in 1972. The G01 arrived there in August, 1972. The third prototype, the G03 D-BABC, made its maiden flight October 10, 1972.
Continue or stop?
Solution for the flutter problem was, amongst others, further re-inforcement at the tail and the addition of hydraulic power operation of the elevator. These modifications were for a part built in at Schiphol. In addition both planes were subjected by Fokker experts to a thorough investigation, in co-operation with the German engineers.
After that it was up to Chief test pilot Jas Moll, together with his German colleague test pilots, to test it for flutter once more.
His opinion, if the VFW 614 was airworthy ( or could be made airworthy ), was crucial. After about a hundred flights came his oké: from an aeronautical point of view was it a good plane! He was full of praise for the nice flight characteristics. No cause was found to halt the programme!
The extensive flight certification programme was completed in Torejon, Spain under German jurisdiction. On August 23, 1974 the airworthyness certificate was handed to VFW by the German LBA (Luftfahrtbundesamt, the same as in de US the FAA). FAA certification followed a year later.
Finally it appeared the tide had turned for the VFW 614, things were looking up again.