The Dutch Saint Nicholas feast and Fokker

The Saint Nicholas feast is part of Dutch tradition and folklore. In Dutch language it is called Sint Nicolaas or more familiar, Sinterklaas. Original an annual medieval occasion to help poor citizens, it has evolved to a feast where children receive presents on St. Nicholas Eve (5th December) or his actual birthday (6th December), depending on the region. The feast is celebrated in the Netherlands as well as in parts of the Southern Netherlands like Belgium, Luxemburg and northern France; also, some former Dutch colonies have kept the tradition. Historians generally consider the Saint Nicholas feast actually being the source for Santa Claus, who has become popular in many Anglo-Saxon countries.

A detailed essay on Sinterklaas goes beyond the scope of this article, but the figures playing a role in the festivities are important to understand the context (Wikipedia has a very informative lemma on Sinterklaas, also in English). Sinterklaas is based on the legend of Saint Nicholas, a Greek bishop of Myra in present Turkey, who was known for his generosity and thus became the patron saint of children. Traditionally, Sinterklaas is pictured as an old man with a white beard, dressed like a bishop in ceremonial red and golden robe and miter, carrying a golden bishop’s staff. He uses a white or grey horse for transportation and he is always accompanied by a few assistants who are dressed in Moorish attire and who carry large bags containing the presents. According to the tradition, these helpers are black faced, hence their name Zwarte Piet (Black Pete). However, in recent years a controversy has arisen since some people do regard Black Pete as racial discrimination. As a consequence, the Zwarte Piet figure is becoming more and more white now. In the legend, Sinterklaas is living in Spain (Spanje in Dutch) and travels to the Netherlands each year by the end of November, using his steam boat for transporting his entire staff, his horse and all presents for the children. The arrival of Sinterklaas on his steamboat marks the beginning of a 2–3-week period prior to the actual feast, during which period Sinterklaas, often abbreviated as just Sint, is visiting schools, hospitals, clubs and other places where children are together. It was not unusual for employers to organize special Sinterklaas events for the children of their coworkers and the Fokker factory was no exception. As an advanced technological company, Fokker had Sinterklaas arrive by airplane instead of on his steamboat, and these airplanes (of course always Fokkers) were most of the time adorned with special texts and/or characteristic cartoons for the feast. After the demise of Fokker, the tradition was continued by Fokker Services at Woensdrecht airport. Although we have tried to document as many of these special Fokkers as possible, many gaps remain in our overview (see below), so all assistance for supplementing it is more than welcome. Please send your information and/or pictures to the editor.

Year c/n registration operator's livery remarks location
1958 10101 PH-NIV Fokker no special titles AMS
1961 10191 PH-FDF Philippine Air Lines no special titles AMS
1962 10214 PH-FED Indian Airlines no special titles AMS
1963 10238 PH-FFD Sudan Airways no special titles AMS
1964 10264 PH-FGF Air New South Wales no special titles AMS
1965 10288 PH-FIF ATI no special titles AMS
1966 10310 PH-FKE ?? ?? AMS
1971 10472 PH-SINT Fokker export colors White and grey c/s with ‘Sint Nicolaas feest bij Fokker’ titles, Sint & Piet cartoons on tail AMS
1975 11093 PH-ZBL Fokker export colors 'Spanje' titles AMS
1979 11127 PH-BBV basic NLM Cityhopper Basic NLM Cityhopper c/s with ‘Spanje’ titles and Sint, Piet and horse cartoon AMS
1980 11163 PH-EXW all white 'Spanje' titles and Sint & Piet stickers AMS
1981 11001 PH-JHG Fokker ‘Spanje’ titles at passengers door AMS
1982 11001 PH-JHG Fokker ‘Spanje’ titles and large cartoon AMS
1983 11093 PH-ZBL
1984 11219 PH-NCR Fokker export colors White and grey c/s with Sinterklaas cartoon, no titles AMS
1987 10688 PH-OSI
1988 11242 PH-MKH Fokker ‘Air Nicolaas’ titles, name ‘Madrid’ and Sinterklaas cartoon AMS
1989 11242 PH-MKH Fokker F100 prototype colors Large ‘Air Madrid’ titles AMS
1991 11364 PH-EZA all white ‘Spanje’ titles and Sint & Piet cartoon AMS
1992 11429 PH-LXA China Eastern ‘Sint en Piet AIRWAY’ titles and Sinterklaas cartoon, ‘Madrid Spanje’ on nosewheel door AMS
1993 11323 PH-CFA Transwede ‘Nikolaas Airways’ titles and Sint cartoon AMS
1993 11309 PH-LMZ Palair Macedonian 'Sint-Express' sticker next to passengers’ door WOE
1994 11528 PH-JCH Fokker 'Spanje' titles WOE
1995 11243 PH-MKC Fokker 'Spanje' titles AMS
2005 11368 C-GKZL Ford Motors ‘Sint Air’ titles and cartoon WOE
2007 11242 PH-MKH Fokker Sostar-X scheme Large ‘SINT AIR’ titles and cartoon WOE
2010 11242 PH-MKH Fokker ?? WOE
2011 20240 D2-ESR SonAir Large ‘SINT AIR’ titles WOE
2012 11419 PH-AQE Avianca ‘SINT AIR’ titles WOE
2013 11333 PH-CXN all white ‘SINT AIR’ titles WOE
2017 11583 PH-KZH Insel Air no special titles

In 1958 Sinterklaas arrived at Schiphol airport in the first Fokker Friendship prototype PH-NIV (10101). As far as we can see no special titles or cartoons were applied (left). (unknown photographer, collection Jacques Vooren; Amsterdam, 1958). Three years later it was PH-FDF (10191), to become PI-C503 with Philippine Air Lines, that served during the children’s feast (right). (Unknown photographer, collection Hans Hoffmann; Amsterdam, 1961)


Sudan Airways F27 still with test registration PH-FFD (10238) was used for the Sinterklaas feast in 1963. The Friendship carried no special titles or cartoons. (Ad Jan Altevogt; Amsterdam, 1963)


In 1971 Fokker used an unsold F27 for the Sinterklaas festivities. Officially this was PH-EXA (10472) for which an order by Malaysia-Singapore Airways was intended, but not finalized. The aircraft was white and grey and for the occasion adorned with ‘Sint Nicolaas feest bij Fokker’ titles, Sint and Piet cartoons on the tail and a fake registration PH-SINT. (Ad Jan Altevogt; Amsterdam, 1971)


In 1979 Sinterklaas’ carriage was F28 PH-BBV (11127), which had just returned from lease to Air Anglia in NLM Cityhopper colors. On the nose is the name ‘Spanje’ and next to the passenger’s door a Sint & Piet cartoon. (Unknown photographer, collection Hans Hoffmann; Amsterdam, 1979)


F28 11163 had a difficult start; it was built in 1980, intended to go to Sun Pacific Airlines in the USA, but the deal was blown off and finally it was only sold in 1984 to Pilgrim Airways. This gave Fokker the opportunity using the aircraft as PH-EXW in the 1980 Sinterklaas celebration, with ‘Spanje’ titles, a Sint & Piet cartoon and a cheatline in the colors of the Dutch flag. (Unknown photographer, collection Hans Hoffmann; Amsterdam, 1980)


The F28 prototype PH-JHG (11001) was used at least twice for the Sinterklaas feast. In 1981 it carried its third livery, to which ‘Spanje’ titles were added, covering the passenger’s door (left) (Ad Jan Altevogt; Amsterdam, 12 December 1981). The same aircraft also served one year later, now with different titles and a large sticker with cartoons added (right). (Unknown photographer, collection Hans Hoffmann; Amsterdam, 1982)


In 1984 F28 11219 was selected to transport Sinterklaas. It had the fake registration PH-NCR and a cartoon not only figuring Sint, Piet and the horse, but also a Fokker sign. The meaning of the fake registration is unclear, it was actually PH-EZR. (Ad Jan Altevogt; Amsterdam, 1984)


For the 1989 feast, the first F100 prototype PH-MKH (11242) was used, with large ‘Air Madrid’ titles. (Ad Jan Altevogt; Amsterdam, November 1989)


Few days before delivery to TAT F100 11364 performed in the 1991 Sinterklaas feast, sporting a large name ‘Spanje’ as well as a Sint & Piet cartoon. The registration is incompletely visible, but officially it was still PH-EXA. During the delivery flight to Dinard it was F-GIOH, and once arrived it became F-GIOG very soon. (Ad Jan Altevogt; Amsterdam, November 1991)


One year later, PH-LXA (11429) had the honor of carrying special decals for the Sinterklaas event. Apart from a Sinterklaas cartoon behind the cockpit and ‘Sint & Piet AIRWAY’ titles in green on the fuselage, also note the text ‘Madrid Spanje’ on the nosewheel door. (Ad Jan Altevogt; Amsterdam, 1992)


Shortly before delivery, F100 c/n 11323 participated in the 1993 festivities. The Transwede titles were overtaped by a sticker ‘Nikolaas Airways’ and a Sinterklaas portrait. The registration is not visible, but was PH-CFA, to become SE-DUB a couple of days later. (Unknown photographer, collection Hans Groen; Amsterdam, November 1993)


A very rare picture of F100 11368 registered as C-GKZL, which was destined for Ford Motors Corp as N320K, but was never taken up. During its storage at Woensdrecht, it was used for the local Sinterklaas event, as the Sint & Piet cartoon and ‘SINT AIR’ titles demonstrate. (Unknown photographer, collection Hans Groen; Woensdrecht, 2005)


Not for the first time, F100 prototype PH-MKH (11242) participated in the Sinterklaas event. By then, it was painted in the special Sostar-X color scheme and carried large ‘SINTAIR’ titles and the portrait of Sinterklaas. (Johan Havelaar, Woensdrecht, 2007)


An uncommon F50 adorned with ‘SINT AIR’ titles for the Sinterklaas feast of Fokker Services at Woensdrecht, was D2-ESR (20240) in full SonAir livery. (Johan Havelaar; Woensdrecht, November 2011)


This rather exotic scene of a F100 in full Avianca colors decorated with ‘SINT AIR’ titles could be seen in 2012. Although the registration HK-4579 was still on the airplane, it was officially PH-AQE and owned by Qantas, but as far as we know never carried that registration. (Johan Havelaar; Woensdrecht, 28 November 2012)


The year after, F100 PH-CXN (11333) brought Sinterklaas to the Fokker children at Woensdrecht. The white livery was interim between service with Mexicana Click and Virgin Australia. The ‘SINT AIR’ titles looked similar to previous years. (Johan Havelaar; Woensdrecht, 4 December 2013)

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