Flight LH8175 last Thursday (17DEC20), taking off from ATL towards FRA was the last to be commanded by Captain Fokko Doyen. However, callsign of this particular flight was not Lufthansa
Cargo 8175 but “Fokko1” - from pushback in ATL till on blocks in FRA. Upon landing at Rhine-Main Airport, he was full of melancholy coupled with great thankfulness. The 64year-old retires at the
end of December, closing a fascinating chapter that spans more than three decades with the German cargo carrier. In all those years, not only did he make a name for himself as a brilliant pilot
and Head of Fleet of the MD-11 freighters, but "Captain Fokko" also became a well-known and respected brand. This, because he is a living symbiosis of professionalism as a pilot and initiator of
a humanitarian mission, best illustrated by his Kenya project Cargo Human Care (CHC).
Prior to his departure to Atlanta, CFG had the opportunity to meet him in Lufthansa Cargo's Frankfurt headquarters last Monday (14DEC20) and talk at length about his impressive career as a pilot and his involvement with CHC.
Since there are two thematic focuses, we have decided to split our coverage into two parts. We begin with Fokko's aviator role.
This is what Fokko says about his childhood and youth:
I come from Holte, a village with 300 souls, where practically everyone knows everyone else. Growing up in such an environment, awakens the desire to learn about new things and to change location. After school, I started studying engineering in Wilhelmshaven on the North Sea, known for its large naval base. There, I felt an urge to become a seafarer, which I did for a short period of time, going to sea as a simple sailor.
Changing from sea to air
After I had passed my exam as an engineer, I learned that Lufthansa was looking for flight engineers. Compared to the maritime sector, aviation was even more suited to satisfying my wanderlust. So I applied, retrained, and then flew on various passenger aircraft before applying to Lufthansa Cargo in 1997 for captain training on what was then the Boeing 747-200F. That was the time when the management decided to acquire a fleet of MD-11 freighters. Hence, they sent me to Long Beach for simulator training, where Douglas used to have their HQ, and from day one I fell in love with this elegant aircraft type.
Fokko’s role as chief of the MD-11F fleet
In 2007, I became Head of Fleet of Lufthansa Cargo’s MD-11F. Perhaps because I was selected to perform several test flights, another duty was that of an auditor, and I conducted numerous welcome seminars on behalf of the airline. In 2015, at the age of 60, I stepped down from the function of Head of Fleet. At that time, I told my wife, Franka, that I wanted to fly one more year without additional obligations, just enjoying my job as a pilot, and this is how she reacted, because I still remember every single word:
"You must be kidding, I'm sure you’ll sit in the cockpit for another 5 years.”
And that's what happened. By the way, I also met Franka at Lufthansa; she was a flight attendant and had studied art history. We got married in 1985 and are parents of three grown-up children.
Unforgettable moments and impressions
Night flights over the North Atlantic are incredibly special because of the auroras. These fascinating impressions of fusing colors in the sky dancing above the aircraft, still induce deep emotions and continue to trigger feelings of strong gratitude - even after 40 years of flying.
In contrast, flights across many parts of Africa are completely different. There, the nights are pitch black. On the ground, not a single light can be seen. There is just nothing.
What has also always fascinated me about Lufthansa Cargo, are new routes that eventually become part of the carrier’s network. For example, a round-the-world flight with stopovers in, Tahiti, later Honolulu, Auckland and Melbourne.
Another fascinating experience I made, were flights crossing exactly the magnetic North Pole. In that case, the compass needle goes wild for a couple of seconds, turning instantly from north to south once the aircraft has overflown the pole.
Exceptional was also the flight from Frankfurt to Istanbul shortly after the Eyjafjallajokull volcano had erupted in 2010, causing the closure of airspace because the ashes posed a risk to aviation. We flew with special permission from the regulator and had tapes on the aircraft intakes to see if there were particles in the air swirling around sucked in by the engines. The entire mission was broadcast live on TV. The result was that, at least in Central Europe, the volcanic plume caused no danger to aviation.
Fortunately, and knock on wood, I have not experienced any critical situations in all my 40 years on duty. The MD-11F is a demanding aircraft, but a very solid one. It was Lufthansa Cargo's workhorse for more than two decades and contributed a lot to the company's sound reputation, especially in terms of operational reliability. I can only repeat: I love this aircraft and associate many unforgettable moments with it. I will very much miss flying!
Compiled by Heiner Siegmund
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