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Messerschmitt BF-109 History


Willy Messerschmitt portraitWilly Messerschmitt was born in 1898, just three years after Reginald Mitchell, the designer of the Spitfire. He was an aviation enthusiast from an early age. By the age of 16, he had built a glider from the plans of Friedrich Harth , an early German aviator whom he had befriended. At 18, he joined the Schleissheim Military Flying School. He designed aircraft in partnership with Harth until the latter was badly injured in a crash. He eventually was able to gain control of the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke (Bavarian Aircraft Works) in Augsburg. In the twenties, he was responsible for a number of innovative glider designs.

    Unfortunately for Dr. Messerschmitt, in 1929 he made an implacableErhard Milch portrait enemy of Erhard Milch, who was then the director of procurement for Lufthansa, the German Airline. Accounts differ as to the exact nature of the feud..... it certainly involved cancelled orders for aircraft, a crash of a prototype, and heated exchanges over money. Whatever the reasons, Milch, who rose to the position of Secretary of State Aviation for the new German Reich, went out of his way to exclude Messerschmitt's firm from being considered for any government contracts. The company, in fact, suffered the indignity of being ordered to build Heinkel bi-planes under licence! Messerschmitt was reduced to seeking sales for his products outside the country to ensure the survival of his company. He got orders  from Rumania for a commercial transport and a single-seat trainer. This led to a public denouncement by Milch for allegedly supporting a foreign country's aviation program. (and the unwelcome attention of the Gestapo, although they took no action...... perhaps due to the fact that a friend of Hermann Goering, Theo Croneiss, had been appointed to oversee the survival and re-organization of the company.)

    In 1933, the Luftwaffe asked the theBavarian aircraft Works, along with other aircraft manufacturers, to design an entry in the 4th Challenge de Tourisme Internationale (Air Races) to be held in 1934. The idea being, of course, to show off the fledgling Reich's advanced aviation technology. Two crashes grounded Willy's first design, so, with only limited time available, Messerschmitt decided to base a second entry on the M-37, His trainer that the Rumanians had ordered. This was a highly advanced, monoplane side-by-side two seater with a flush-riveted skin. Powered either by a 250 hp Hirth or a 218 hp Argus engine, the machine could exceed 200 mph (320 km/hr). The wing had both leading and trailing edge flaps and a patented, unique single spar arrangement. This new machine was re-designated the BF-108.Messerschmitt BF-108 by Lance Russwurm There were various problems, including another fatal crash, but the design was corrected in time. 

 It didn't win the race but it DID prove to be the fastest in the competition. It justified Messerschmitt's use of new and daring techniques, and the Luftwaffe could no longer ignore the company's efforts.

     Also in 1934, the German Air Ministry issued a requirement for a modern fighter to replace the Heinkel He 51 and the Arado Ar 68 biplanes then in service. Willy decided to go all out for the competition. Milch did try to block the entry but was out maneuvered. BFW was given the go-ahead to develop a competitive fighter aircraft.

- Lance Russwurm

NEXT: The Prototype BF-109





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