Willy Messerschmitt was a civilian aircraft designer in pre-war Germany. He created the Bf 108 "Taifun" (Typhoon), as a light aircraft using many innovations in the design of that aircraft.
With the rearming of the German nation starting in 1933 the newly created RLM (State Ministry of Aviation) put out a call for a competition to design a modern fighter aircraft for the German Luftwaffe. Willy Messerschmitt's firm Bayerische Flugzeugwerke (Bavarian Aircraft Works) entered along with Heinkel, Junkers, Focke-Wulf, and a few others for this 1934 competition after a few political and public relation strings were pulled.
The Bf 109 was the winner, though Heinkel He-100 was very good, politics in awarding the contract had a say in the award since Heinkel was already producing bombers. The Bf firm had capacity and thus got the contract in part to in order to avoid concentrating aircraft production to only a few firms.
The correct way to write the name of the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke Messerschmitt designed fighter is Bf 109, without any dash. Different models: Bf 109G-6; and with a Rustsatze, for example: Bf 109G-14/R-3. The Bf prefix was held for the 110 as well throughout the war. The Me prefix was used for the others aircraft like the 209 that set the world speed record, 210/410, 163, 262, 309, etc. The prefix change was due to a company reorganization that happened on July 11, 1938. Bayerische Flugzeugwerke company changed into Messerschmitt Flugzeugbau GmbH (Messerschmitt Aircraft Construction). The Bf prefix had already been assigned to the 109 / 110 by then. All new designs started after this date received the "Me" prefix from the RLM. (Thanks to Tom Davis for this explanation. Another site for WWII German Aircraft and Engine Designations is by Andreas Parasch.)
This example of the Bf 109 is the British MoD - Ministry of Defense - Bf 109G-2/TROP (Tropicalized) aircraft that was captured by the Australians in North Africa in November 1942. The British RAF found out about it and took it from them then evaluated it in airfields in the Middle East starting at St Jean Palestine.You can buy a book called, "Black 6" that tells the story of how it was captured, neglected, then restored. The Messerschmitt crashed in October 1997 (PDF) and then was restored once again.
I arrived there on a weekend and it happened to be getting ready to go to an airshow elsewhere for Sunday. The only things the ground crew did was an engine check run up. The next day it went off to an airshow and on the return to Duxford it had enough fuel left to do a 15 minute aerobatics routine for whoever was there. So I was very lucky to see it fly.
You can listen to the sounds of this Bf 109G-2/TROP Gustav by purchasing from Aircraft Records. This firm recorded the sounds of the Gustav from engine startup, flyby, and shutdown, in 1995.
There are lots of other aircraft at Duxford and the way they parked the aircraft I was able to get some interesting images of the two next to each other. The cowling is open on the Bf-109.
Bf 109G and a B-17G Flying fortress Bf 109 was the official Luftwaffe name for the fighter, but the Allies often referred to as a Messerschmitt in reference to the designer and at times referenced them as Me 109 in documents and in briefings to aircrew.
Looking at the Daimler-Benz DB-605A Engine Daimler-Benz built the engines for the Messerschmitt 109 aircraft. Starting with the DB-601 then ending up with the DB-605 with many variations in between. The German aircraft used lower octane fuel than the British or Americans. This is one reason why their engines never produced as much horsepower as the cubic inches measurement against Allied aircraft one would expect to see. It uses 87 octane fuel.
The left side of the 109 with the cowl open and a B-17 behind German aircraft were design for field maintenance. The ease at which a ground crew could service the engine was vastly different than American or British planes. An engine change could be done is 12 hours by three people. A US aircraft would take two days and a team of 6 to accomplish the same thing - at a permanent base.
Messerschmitt Black 6 in a fly by 1000 yds out During the aerobatic performance of the Messerschmitt he did various rolls, loops and turns around Duxford. I shot this with a 230 mm lens when he was around 1000 yds out during a turn. It shows the good plan form view of this late model 1942 109 F that was turned into a G on the produciton line in autumn of 1942.
In desert Luftwaffe colors a 109 comes in for a pass. This was taken with the same lens from around 1500 feet out but only 200 feet above the ground. The Daimler- Benz (DB) engine has a very distinctive sound. The blades on a 109 is also very paddle like. The sun is behind the aircraft so it the contrast is way down.
Bf 109G-2 as it taxis back after an airshow at Duxford. The print I make of this at 16x20 size you can see the mustache of the pilot. The aircraft, even though it was designed and used by NAZI Germany, is on its own a very pretty aircraft.
Large picture of Bf 109G-2 Black 6 engine run This is a large (900 pixel wide) image the engine run-up of Black 6 in August 1997 when I was at Duxford.
The 109G-2/TROP shown flying at the top of this page is the famous "Black 6" captured by Australian troops in North Afrika in November of 1942. It had a total of some 20 hours of airtime when captured. The RAF found out about it and took it from them then did extensive trials to compare it against the Spitfire V and other allied aircraft. It was outperforming them and the Allied planes were having problems countering its performance. (You never would know that flying in some WWII flight simulators!) It was brought out every year for the anniversary of the Battle of Britain and put on display.
The a/c is owned by the MoD - Ministry of Defense - but they would not restore it so a private group did so over a period of some six years back to flying condition. I took this picture of it in August of 1997 two months before a RAF jet jockey flipped it on it's back in a ploughed field when the aircraft developed a coolant leak and he dove toward the ground for a landing. He was worried about engine seizing / fire. He must have forgot that WW II aircraft glide unlike modern jet a/c (even with a dead engine they glide well). At Reno National Air Races the first thing a pilot does when a mayday occurs is climb for altitude to give yourself more time so to find out extent of problem, shut things down as needed, or bail out if really that bad. At least he refused to let the crash crew cut him out of the cockpit to avoid more damage to the aircraft. It took them two hours to get a crane to the a/c so it could be lifted and the canopy opened so he could drop out unhurt. The a/c was restored in time for the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Britain. Though it will never fly again. It crashed on the very last flight it was ever to make. Here is a site that has specific information on the 109-G2/Trop a/c plus images of the accident. Here is the official aircraft accident report when it crashed on 12 October 1997 at 1600 hrs.
This excerpt from the book "Black 6":
Squadron Leader Bobby Gibbs, RAAF, at Gambut, Cyrenaica, test flew it: "He had taken to flying mock combat sorties against his unit's P-40 fighters and soon found that the obvious superiority of the German fighter was in danger of demoralizing his men!" In his diary, 14 November 1942, he wrote: "The 109 is a hell of a nice kite with terrific performance. On the lowest permissible boost and revs was clocking 220-230 mph." At Lydda, it under went flight testing by Group Captain Buxton, who said after a second flight, 30 December 1942: "Very good performer," and from Don Batger, 452 Squadron on Buxton's fight: "He turned the 109 inside out and came back and said that it was better than anything we had at the time." (Spitfire Mk V variant).
"The cockpit is simple. A number of technical controls such as oxygen flow, adjustment of coolant radiator and oil radiator flaps and airscrew pitch control have been made automatic and need no attention from the pilot. The pilot is then able to give more attention to fighting tactics, teamwork, navigation and practical flying." Further, "The supercharger is driven through a hydraulic clutch in the same way as the D.B. 601. this gives the effect of a multi-speed drive without attention from the pilot. The maximum boost is also automatically controlled."
Here's part of an evaluation by Col. "Kit" Carson on some improvements that he said could have easily been done to the 109 from the July 1976 issue of Airpower.
"Messerschmitt practically ignored the subject of low drag aerodynamics and one can tell that by an inspection of the 109E or G. The fact is evident even in close-up photographs. It was aerodynamically the most inefficient fighter of its time. That's a puzzling thing when one realizes that much of the original work on high speed drag and turbulent surface friction was done in Germany in the 20s and 30s. Messerschmitt was surrounded by it. Further, the work in England and the U.S. in this field was in the open literature, at least until 1938.
I also suspect, again from the record of history, that Willy Messerschmitt was too busy becoming a Direktor of Messerschmitt A.G. to concentrate on improving his status as an ingenieur.
Having gone this far, let me carry this affront to Messerschmitt's engineering reputation one step further.
An airplane factory can get things done awfully fast, in any country and in any language, once the engineers and sheet metal benders understand what is wanted. Every factory has a "development shop" or its equivalent, which is a full scale model or prototype shop with 100 or 200 old pros in every skill. Having that many coffee drinkers, pipe smokers and "yarn spinners" around on the payroll, let's clobber 'em with a bundle of shop drawings on a clean up of the Me-109. Object: to make it a 400 mph plus airplane. Time...30 days. The information and techniques required are currently available as of 1940. It's all written up in unclassified reports.
(1) Cancel the camouflage paint and go to smooth bare metal. Besides the weight, about 50 pounds, the grain size is too large when it dries and it causes turbulent friction over the entire airplane surface. That may take a phone call to the brass. They're emotional about paint jobs. "Image," you know.
(2) Modify the cockpit canopy. Remove the inverted bathtub that's on there now and modify as necessary to fit the Me-209-VI canopy. That's the airplane that set the world speed record in 1939.
(3) Get rid of the wing slats. Lock them closed and hand fit a strip, upper and lower surface, that will close the sheet metal gaps between the slat and wing structure. That gap causes the outboard 15 feet of each wing to be totally turbulent.
(4) As aerodynamic compensation for locking the slats, setup jigs and fixtures on the assembly line to put in 2 degrees of geometric twist from the root to tip, known as "washout."
(5) Modify coolant scoop inlet fairings. The square corners that are there now induce an unnecessary amount of drag. Also lower the inlet 1 to 2 inches below wing surface to get it out of the turbulence of the wing surface.
(6) Install complete wheel well fairings that cover the openings after the gear is retracted.
(7) Retract tail wheel. (Tom's Note: This was actually done on some models of the 109.)
All of the above could have been done in 30 days but it wasn't. I don't know why. Someone would have to ask Willy...it's for him to say."
I've read that they did not want to change the overlapping of the sheet metal on the aircraft since it would cause a disruption of the production line for around two months at least. Basically a shutdown for each line as they redid the jigs and changed the process and trained people to do the new construction process. Much harder to train people do flush riveting correctly that than the plain pop rivets. That would mean around 600 planes not produced. The improvement would be minor since the gain in a/c speed by this change to smooth the airflow would be minimal. Maybe 15 MPH.
This was in mid 1943 when the ramping up of fighter production was starting under Albert Speer.
I think the comment that Willy did not want to be taken from designing the Me 262 (and other) projects, while taking over and running the company played a lot into that. He would have to spend time going over the drawings, the production changes and other aero dynamic details (plus reviewing test flights). Lowering the production output would mean political fire since the production goals would not be meet and goals had to be met at all costs in the 3rd Reich even if it meant worse problems later on!
Another person went into much depth in examing this article and has point by point refuted it. http://mitglied.lycos.de/luftwaffe1/Carson/Carson.html so after reading the above go here and find out what Kit Carson left out!
Report from JG 11 on 29th [October 1944] on mock air battle between Fw 190A-9 and Bf 109 AS/MW 50.
A Schwarm of Me 109 at 8,000 metres climbed up to attack a Rotte of Fw 190 at 10,000 metres. On the turn with 1.1 boost, the Me 109 Schwarm out climbed the Fw 190 Rotte by about 200 metres and at the same time without fully opened throttles and not flying flat out, they out turned the Fw 190 Rotte.
First attack was from above and behind with 1.1 boost and flaps retracted and a normal steep turn without opening to maximum possible speed, the Fw 190A-9 was easily overtaken and out turned.
Second attack from behind and below on the number one of the Rotte, aircraft was easily overtaken, out turned and outstripped in the inside turn.
On full throttle it is easily possible to out climb the A-9 without losing position since speed can be reduced by throttling back and doing very tight turns.
Appreciation: Me 109 AS/MW 50 obviously superior at high altitude to the Fw 190A-9. Secondly, now known that on July 14th, Air Officer for Technology issued instructions for preventing burning out of pistons on DB 603 and DB 605AS with methyl alcohol water injection.
Report from Wunstorf on 28th on experiences with MW 50 on Bf 109. When aircraft is in climbing position with 1.7 atmospheres boost, oil supply is endangered because of insufficient return. In two cases in Wunstorf a broken big end resulted from too extended climb, climb should therefore be as shallow as possible.
Even when outclassed, the Messerschmitt could surprise its adversaries. Thomas L. Hayes, Jr., a P-51 ace of the 357th Fighter Group with 8 1/2 victories, recalled diving after a fleeing Me-109G until both aircraft neared the sound barrier and their controls locked. Both pilots took measures to slow down, but to Hayes' astonishment, the Me-109 was the first to pull out of its dive. As he belatedly regained control of his Mustang, Hayes was grateful that the German pilot chose to quit while he was ahead and fly home instead of taking advantage of Hayes' momentary helplessness. Hayes also stated that while he saw several Fw-190s stall and even crash during dogfights, he never saw an Me-109 go out of control.
Allied pilots who had the opportunity to sit in the 109's cockpit claimed it to be so narrow that they could barely work the control column between their knees. "The windscreen supports were slender and did not produce serious blind spots," said Eric Brown, "but space was so confined that movement of the head was difficult for even a pilot of my limited stature." The British and their American colleagues were also appalled at its minimal instrumentation. Soviet ace Vitali I. Popkov, who scored 41 victories in LaGG-3s and La-5FNs, flew a captured Me-109 and, like his Western colleagues, came away amazed that its pilots had been able to perform as well as they did.
It has been said, however, that where you sit is where you stand, and German Me-109 pilots saw things from a decidedly different perspective. Franz Stigler, a 28-victory Experte, test-flew captured American fighters and commented: "I didn't like the Thunderbolt. It was too big. The cockpit was immense and unfamiliar. After so many hours in the snug confines of the [Me-109], everything felt out of reach and too far away from the pilot. Although the P-51 was a fine airplane to fly...it too was disconcerting. With all those levers, controls and switches in the cockpit, I'm surprised [American] pilots could find the time to fight."
British Captain Eric Brown said that the captured Me-109G-6/U2 he test-flew in 1944 was "delightful to fly" at its cruising speed of 240 mph, but in a 400-mph dive, "the controls felt as though they had seized!" On the whole, he concluded that "providing the Gustav was kept where it was meant to be (i.e., above 25,000 feet/7,620 meters), it performed efficiently both in dogfighting and as an attacker of bomber formations."
Tom's note: not sure what books those quotes are from.
This Bf 109E-3 to the left was shot down during the "Battle of Britain" over Sussex. Note the Gothic "S" on the cowling denoting that it was flown by a member of JG26. The aircraft went on tour to the US from 1940 through 1945. Saved from the scrap heap by aircraft restorers, it was then restored and is now on display at Duxford.
Now compare this photo taken right after it was shot down to the one I took of it in July of 2004. If you look carefully at the a/c canopy you will see that they are DIFFERENT. The one in the original photograph had CURVED and rounded frame while this one is VERY MUCH straight. Thus, though they restored it, they used a different model canopy than what was originally on the aircraft!
Someone did not pay attention to what they were doing and instead of manufacturing a correct canopy grabbed one off a different model.
Also note that the nose spinner is now missing, a decal seems to be missing, and the color right above the wing fairing is different (that may be oil streaks from the engine) than how the a/c is now displayed at Duxford's Imperial War Museum.
A Bf 109E-3 that was shot down Many aircraft were shot down during the Battle of Britain, but few were in good enough shape to be salvaged and repaired. A few were kept as they were for morale use and towed around to cities and this was one of them.
The 109 above likely flew out of St. Omer during the Battle of Britain.
Spanish Hispano 'Bouchon' Bf 109G Messerschmitt licensed to Spain's Hispano-Aviacion company rights to built them. Hispano assigned a model number HA-1112 to them. With the end of the war, and the loss of purchasing Damlier-Benz engines from Germany, they converted production to using British Merlin engines! This aircraft was used in the filming of the 1968 movie "The Battle of Britain." This aircraft is at the Tillamook Aviation Museum in Oregon. That is me, Tom Philo, in the cockpit.
Sitting in the cockpit of a Spanish 109 (HA-1112) The cockpit of a Messerschmitt is very small. People were smaller then, and the design was therefore in scale with the people. At 6', no parachute seat pack on, the canopy when it was closed was 1/4 inch from the top of my head - and with no leather helmet on either! Left and right arm movement was very restricted.
Bf 109 instrument panel (Spanish HA-1112) Every aircraft lays out the instruments in a different way. The 109 did lay them out according to ergonomics of the day. Notice the foot straps to hold your feet on the rudder pedals.
HA-1112 Spanish version of the Bf 109G Here is another side view with some arrows pointing out some features of the 109. You can always tell a Merlin powered 109 by the cowling bulges and the different under-cowling. The hub is also missing off of this aircraft.
HA-1112 at Reno At Reno National Air Races in 2002 was a Spanish HA1112 - License built Messerschmitt Me-109. This aircraft appeared in the 1968 movie "Battle of Britain". In the movie it was painted up as "Red 5".
Looking along the wing of a Messerschmitt 109 This aircraft is at the Evergreen museum in Oregon. Here you can see some of the advanced features of the 109. The aircraft was designed in 1936 and these items reduced the workload of the pilot. Leading edge slats for slow speed, automatic oil cooling flaps (top and bottom) counterbalanced control services. This is a Bf 109G-10 version.
Bf 109G-10 in Eric Hartmann's colors Another view of the G-10 at McMinnville museum. This a/c is fully capable of being flown. Here it is with the cowling open and you can see the drop able fuel tank underneath.
Bf 109G-10 at Evergreen Museum This view has the cowl closed on a "Gustav" version of Willy Messerschmitt's German Fighter painted in the colors of Ace of Aces Eric Hartmann's Bf 109.
Bf 109-G14 wooden replica in the United Kingdom While wandering around the UK in 1998 I came across this copy of a Bf 109G-14 that was made out of wood. You can see the underwing cannons that were mounted on it. I took just 8 pictures or so of it while in their hanger. There are quite a few aircraft that are made out of wood - all were made for movies and then sold off afterwards. For quite a few years there was a Hurricane I replica in Reno Nevada from the 1968 Battle of Britain movie in front of a restaurant (closed down in 2002, not sure where the plane went), I also found a Spitfire replica that was also used in the Battle of Britain movie along the Welsh coast.
This is an video taken of a 109G4 at an airshow in, I suspect, Germany. The interview person and the pilot are both speaking in German so it is a good bet!
Bf 109E nose showing the hub 30mm cannon The Germans developed many cannons for their fighter aircraft. 20 mm cannons were in the wings, a 30 mm cannon fired through the hub of the spinner, and twin 7.9 Machine Guns were in the cowl. This was a tremendous amount of firepower for a 1940 era fighter. The only drawback was the slow rate of fire when compared to machine guns (nose machine guns are both rifle caliber in size which is defined as being a .30 inch diameter bullet). The R on the side denotes JG2 "Richtofen."
Left side of a Bf 109E nose This view you can see the squadron and personal emblems that were painted onto the aircraft. The nose is painted yellow as an aid in recognition. Later on the sight of a yellow nosed aircraft was taken to be a fighter from JG26.
Pilot inside cockpit of a Bf 109E Here is a detailed view of the cockpit area from slightly below. The mannequin is dressed up in the equipment of Luftwaffe fighter pilot. Though cramped, the 109E had superior climb and acceleration compared to other fighter planes of the era 1936 -1941. It also had a superior roll rate, which allowed it to get away from enemy fighters. The Spitfire could outturn it, but not out roll it.
View of a Bf 109E from the tail The 109 models A through E all had struts supporting the elevator tail plane. This was needed to ensure that it did not break off in flight. The F model tail was redesigned and reinforced internally to allow the removal of them. However, the F model lost the wing cannons and was thus now under-gunned.
Adolf Galland had his armorer re-install them, on two different aircraft - the gun bays were still there on all production versions - and is known to be the only person who flew this personally modified F variant in 1941./p>
The new wing of the Seattle Musuem of flight is VERY difficult to take pictures in. They have tried to create a "mood" for each aircraft thus the lighting is just spot lighting for each aircraft with very dark areas between each aircraft. This has the effect of putting all the other aircraft into the dark and thus isolating them. For putting them in historical context it is effective, for taking pictures it is horrendous due to the mixed lighting going on there. You really need to use a tripod and lots of slave flashes to get a balanced image. I did not have that luxury on my sneak preview day when I was there for the American Figher Aces Reunion in June 2004. The 109 images were all taken with my digital camera using on camera flash. Compare these to the HA1112 images where I was able to place 5 slave flashes around the plane before taking the picture with my film Nikon.