Whilst the term regional jet is nowadays in common use it really only came into the vernacular during the 1990s and even some early CRJ operators considered their aircraft to be mainline types (notably Air Canada). The F28 is often seen as an early regional jet, but whilst nowadays as a 65-seater (in its 1000 series guise) it easily fits into the medium portion of that range, when developed, during the 1960s, it was in a class of its own, being substantially smaller than its nearest rival the BAC One-eleven. Commuter airlines barely existed at the time and those that did were mainly operating very small types with the 6-11 seat Beech 18 considered a sizeable aircraft. As such the F28 was a fully-fledged mainline aircraft (as the F27 had been before it) and was aimed if not at the first line major airlines at least at the second tier of operators.
The original straight wing was replaced with a swept one and rather than the original thrust reversers a split-tail speedbrake was installed (similar to that used by the Blackburn Buccaneer strike fighter (and later the competing BAE-146)). An APU was fitted, once again to enable better autonomy at primitive airstrips.
F28 was a natural name for the type, though the moniker ‘Fellowship’ was created after a competition in the Fokker company newspaper. It nicely complimented the Friendship title of the F27. First flight for the new 65-seater F28 occurred on May 9, 1967 (PH-JHG) and was quickly followed by the second (PH-WEV on August 3, 1967) and third (PH-MOL on October 20, 1967). PH-MOL was the first production aircraft and would see service with a wide range of operators over its 32-year service history.
Interestingly the first order for the F28 was not a regional carrier but the German charter airline LTU, which had been operating F27s on charters to the Mediterranean since 1961. It ordered a single aircraft on November 17, 1965 and optioned another. Fokker were rather used to picking up small orders and undertaking low-level production, however it must have been a nerve-wracking time as the next orders did not come in until after the second prototype had flown nearly two years later.
This enabled Braathens to steal a march and put its first F28-1000 into service earlier, on March 28. It had received its second aircraft the day before also. Braathens used its F28s on domestic scheduled routes but also charter operations to the Mediterranean. In fact, the initial service was a Stavanger-Rotterdam-Palma service. Braathens also operated the F28 in less sunny climes and used it to land on the Tundra runway on the island of Svalbard. This service continued until September 1, 1975 when the island’s new airport was opened and SAS tookover the route.
LTU finally started operations on April 2, 1969 and put the type straight into service between Dusseldorf and Palma de Mallorca. At this time all of LTU’s service departed from Dusseldorf, something the airline said enabled it to streamline its operations.
Braathens had a generally successful time with the F28. They too operated PH-MOL (as LN-SUM) for five months from December 1969. Boeing 737s tookover most of the charter operations but the four of the five purchased aircraft operated until 1986. The exception was LN-SUY which was destroyed in a nasty crash at Asker on December 23, 1972 killing 40 of the 45 aboard. The crash was caused by navigational errors by the crew and bad ILS readings – see Wikipedia for a fuller retelling of the loss of Braathens S.A.F.E flight 239. Following the destruction of this aircraft Braathens leased two F28s from Fokker one after the other as cover between December 1972 and January 1973, and January-April 1973.
The aircraft represented by the Aeroclassics model, LN-SUN, served with Braathens until sale in December 1986 along with a sister to Quebecair (which soon after became Inter-Canadien). Unlike many F28s her stay in Canada was brief and she joined the French regional TAT as F-GIAH in May 1989. In January 1995 she was exported to Cambodia as XU-001 for work as a government transport and her final operator was President Airlines in 1998 wearing XU-888.
LTU appears to have found the F28 less suitable to its operations. It acquired a further pair of new build aircraft in 1971 (D-ABAN and D-ABAM) but all four aircraft were sold on in 1973/74. Soon afterwards LTU was purchasing nearly new L-1011 Tristars to complement its Caravelles so it may have been that the F28 was simply too small for its charter operations by the mid-70s.
Back in 1969 and orders for the F28 were not exactly flooding in and aside from LTU (2) and Braathens (5) there were only five others on order, (Itavia (2), Ansett (for McRobertson Miller Airlines) (2) and Martinair (1)), plus an additional ten for Fairchild (of which eventually only 3 were sold by them (two to Canadian airline Transair).
Fokker was always open to customer specifications and the next order, from Iberia, required the design of a pallet loading system as the Spanish flag carrier wanted to use the F28 for freight as well as passenger operations. Iberia ordered three aircraft with deliveries starting in April 1970. They were regularly seen operating as far afield as Heathrow.
Itavia was a private scheduled competitor to Alitalia in Italy and used the F28 to supplement Handley Page Heralds and enter the jet age. From April 21, 1969 it took delivery of the third prototype, PH-MOL, and used this aircraft until November 3. Both its own aircraft, registered as I-TIDA and I-TIDE, joined the fleet on November 5. Itavia began taking DC-9s in 1971 but remained a big fan of the Fellowship and actually soaked up several of the early examples.
It acquired two of LTU’s eventual four aircraft in 1973 (and leased another during 1974) plus the pair of surviving Iberia aircraft in 1975 (Iberia’s 3rd aircraft was written off in a landing accident at Bilbao on December 28, 1972). Unfortunately, both of Itavia’s original F28s were destroyed in service. I-TIDE crashed on approach to Turin on January 1, 1974 (killing 38) and I-TIDA was written off on take-off at Bergamo on April 9, 1975 (fortunately without loss of life).
Martinair meanwhile bought a single unit, registered PH-MAT and named ‘Prinses Margriet’. Initially it was leased from Fokker on October 1, 1969 and saw numerous leases to a later major Fellowship operator, Linjeflyg of Sweden, prior to being returned to Fokker in October 1980. Martinair also operated the well-travelled PH-MOL for a year from January 1976.
During the 1970s Fellowship production was steady if not spectacular (and mainly of the larger F28-4000 variant) with Garuda Indonesia being a major benefactor for the programme (it operated 62 F28s of various marks at various points). Linjeflyg also adopted the type widely but it wasn’t until deregulation in the USA opened up the niche the type was designed for that the F28 acquired a second wind with Empire Airlines and Piedmont (both later part of USAir). From there it was a short hop into Canada for much of the fleet flying with Canadian Regional partner airlines well into the 2000s.
When production ceased in 1987 a creditable 241 aircraft had been completed although that amounted to only ten aircraft per year of production. The F28 certainly filled a niche, arguably better than the later British Aerospace 146, whose design it predated by twenty odd years. It eventually provided a profit for Fokker and was the backbone of the successful F100 line, which like itself found a second wind in its later life. The type proved ultimately versatile as is shown just from its first 5 European operators who had it in service on rough field ops, medium haul charters, regional services, trunk inter-European schedules and cargo flights all within its first 5 years of operation.
One last point to make is that European F28s have seen little joy in 1:400 scale. Aside from the recent Braathen’s example only three other EU F28s have been made and none represent LTU, Iberia, Itavia, Martinair or Linjeflyg.
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: