Photo: Robert Deering 1981
The Messerschmitt Bf 109
began as an entry by the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke in a
Luftwaffe (German Air Force) fighter
competition in the early 1930s. Willy Messerschmitt's
creation incorporated one of the most advanced
aerodynamic designs at the time, with retractable
landing gear, an enclosed cockpit, automatic slats,
cantilever wings and stressed skin construction. During
the trials, the Bf 109 clearly outperformed the larger
and heavier favorite, Heinkel's He 112. The first
production model, the Bf 109B, began coming off the
lines in 1936. The redesignation of the Bayerische
Flugzeugwerke AG (Aktiengesellschaft or
Corporation) to the Messerschmitt AG in 1938 led many to
call it the Me 109, although the official Luftwaffe
designation of the aircraft remained the Bf 109
throughout the war.
Development and Service
The Bf 109B first entered combat with German-manned Condor Legion units during the Spanish Civil War, and they were a welcome replacement for the obsolete Heinkel He 51 biplane fighter. The Bf 109C, introduced in 1938, retained the twin 7.9mm MG 17 machine guns mounted above the engine but replaced the single MG 17 firing through the propeller spinner with two MG 17s in the wings.
After less than 200 Bf 109Ds were built, the Bf 109E entered production with the Daimler Benz DB 601 in early 1939. Early in World War II, the Bf 109E completely dominated the Polish PZL fighters. In the invasion of France in May 1940, the Bf 109E outfought French Morane-Saulnier MS 406s and British Hawker Hurricanes.
In the air battles over the English Channel and later during the Battle of Britain, the Bf 109E not only exposed its Achilles heel -- its short range -- but also met its equal, the Supermarine Spitfire. The short range of the Bf 109E prevented it from escorting Luftwaffe bombers past London, leaving the greater part of the British Isles free from enemy attack on training and production sites. This problem was a significant contribution to the Luftwaffe's defeat in the Battle of Britain.
The Bf 109F began to replace the E series in late 1940. Intended to counter the Spitfire, the F series had an engine with increased horsepower and a more streamlined airframe and cooling system. More than half of the Luftwaffe single-engine fighter units involved in the invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, flew the Bf 109F. The F model also enjoyed considerable superiority over the RAF Kittyhawks (P-40s) and Hurricanes it met over the skies of North Africa.
The limits of the Bf 109 design appeared with the Bf 109G series, which began production in early 1942. The Bf 109G had a higher top speed but was less maneuverable than earlier versions. Some later Gs had bulges in front of the cockpit caused by the larger 13mm MG 131 machine guns, which added further weight and drag. Pilots of the Bf 109G found it increasingly difficult to fly against more capable aircraft such as the P-51D Mustang. Despite its limitations, the G series was the most numerous of the Bf 109 types and remained in production into 1945.
The last major series was the Bf 109K, which was similar to the Bf 109G-10 series. Development problems aggravated by Allied bombing and the rapidly deteriorating war situation limited production of this type to less than 2,000.
During WWII, the Bf 109 was the backbone of the Luftwaffe fighter force, serving on all fronts and also in the air forces of its European allies. Even though the superior Fw 190 began to replace the Bf 109 in some units as early as the summer of 1941, production of the Bf 109 actually rose until the closing months of the war and it remained the most numerous Luftwaffe fighter. By war's end, Germany had built more than 30,000 Bf 109s. Production of the Bf 109 continued on after the war in Czechoslovakia until 1949 and in Spain until 1958. It remains to this day the most produced fighter in history.
The Messerschmitt Bf 109G-10 series was unusual in that it consisted of new and remanufactured airframes of earlier model Gs equipped with the more powerful Daimler Benz DB 605D series engine. As a result, there was little standardization beyond the common use of the Erla-Haube (or "Galland Hood") improved vision canopy. Even so, the G-10 proved to be the fastest G model.
The museum's Bf 109G-10 is painted to represent an aircraft from Jagdgeschwader 300, a unit that defended Germany against Allied bombers. JG 300 was originally formed as a Wilde Sau (or Wild Boar) night fighter unit in 1943 but converted to the day fighter role as U.S. bomber attacks intensified. In the many pitched battles with the U.S. Army Air Forces, the Bf 109G-10s of JG 300 often provided top cover for the more heavily armed Focke Wulf Fw 190s attacking the bomber formations. This unit also had the distinction of being the last command of the war for Maj. Gunther Rall, who with 275 victories, was the third-highest scoring ace in history.
American Bf 109s
The center for USAAF foreign aircraft testing in WWII was based at Wright Field, Ohio. Throughout the war, numerous enemy aircraft were brought there to face a rigid examination, including test flights. Test aircraft were given an designation number prefixed by: EB (for Evaluation Branch), FE (Foreign Intelligence) or T2 (for the T-2 Office of Air Force Intelligence).
Armament: One 30mm MK 108 cannon and two 13mm MG 131 machine guns
Engine: One Daimler-Benz DB 605D inverted V rated at 1,850 hp for take-off
Maximum speed: 426 mph at 24,280 ft.
Range: 373 miles
Ceiling: 41,400 ft.
Span: 32 ft.
Length: 29 ft. 5 in.
Height: 8 ft. 2.5 in.
Weight: 5,800 lbs.
Source: National Museum of the United States Air Force