September 27, 1929. The day when an an aircraft well ahead of its time made its maiden flight.
"The Fokker F-32 was truly the "Jumbo" of the 1930s era. " - wrote Ed Coates, a celebrated collector of aircraft images & data. - "This machine was the largest transport aircraft of its time and seated 32 passengers in (for the day) luxury accommodations. WAE purchased two of them but they proved to be a bad investment as mechanical difficulties coupled with the economic conditions of the Depression era could not support this type of airliner. The historic image below shows the aircraft upon its arrival at the new Alhambra Airport in March of 1930. "
The story of the F-32/YC-20 is told on the Dutch Aviation website:
Although a total of ten F-32's were built, only two were actually in carrier service because of the high cost of operation (F-32 was priced at $110000 making it the most expensive aircraft of the time, and it cost $1.25 per mile to operate it).
In 1930, the Army Air Corps borrowed the Fokker F.32 transport for evaluation and assigned it the YC-20 designation. Like the Boeing Y1C-18, the aircraft remained company property and was returned after completion of testing. The YC-20 was by far the largest transport plane tested by the Air Corps during the early 1930's. It wouldn't be until World War II that the Army would have similar size aircraft like the Curtiss C-46 & Douglas C-47. The passenger cabin had thirty seats; seven rows of four seats split by an aisleway plus two additional seats below the cockpit in the forward fuselage.
The YC-20 featured an unusual engine arrangement. The four Pratt & Whitney Hornet radial engines were mounted in tandem pairs on the engine nacelles. The forward engines had large diameter 2 blade "tractor" propellers while the aft engines had a smaller three blade "pusher" propellers. The goal of this engine nacelle design was to increase the speed of the aircraft by generating more thrust without the added drag of two additional engine nacelles.
Unfortunately, the design had two major drawbacks. First, the aft engines did not get enough cooling air flow to keep from overheating. Second, the aft propeller operated in the the turbulent air flow of the forward propeller and was very inefficient. These two problems combined to give the aircraft high operating and maintenance costs and unspectacular performance. The Air Corps decided not to buy any YC-20s and returned the the evaluation aircraft to Fokker after a brief test period.
Fokker built 10 F-32's and several were used during the early 1930s with the civilian airline Western Air Express on the San Francisco to Los Angeles route. Although the YC-20 was unsuccessful, it was generally considered to be an aircraft that was ahead of its time. It had such innovative features (for 1930) as in-flight radio transmitting and receiving capability and two toilets for passenger comfort.
And finally, some pictures of the F-32 from the collection of San Diego Air & Space Museum: