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The Messerschmitt BF109

The ME109 was, along with the FW190, one of the two backbone fighters of the Luftwaffe for the Second World War. Early on however it was entirely 109s that took to the skies for the Reich; and the plane found its reputation as a solid fighter during the early European campaigns and the Battle of Britain. It's probable that the British seriously underestimated this fighter early on, considering their Hurricanes and especially Spitfires to be superior, a viewpoint that remains entirely debatable especially for early war models. The 109 had been used quite well in the Spanish Civil War and the German pilots flying them had a solid understanding of what the aircraft was capable of; plus they had the benefit of combat experience in fast prop driven fighters that lead to superior tactics. In retrospect it was probably a very good thing that the 109 limited Luftwaffe pilots to only a few minutes of combat over England; because if this "inferior" fighter had been better equipped for long range sorties it would have given the Allies even more trouble.

Of all the planes in the WWII the 109 probably has the most interesting history; flown well before the War, it lasted all the way until the bitter end, undergoing continuos modifications and refinements. That it was able to cope at all was a testament to a solid design, but by the end of the war the technology in the 109 was more of a liability than a benefit to its designers - it was being used in roles never envisioned for it, and subsequently didn't fill them as well as newer designs might have. Total output for 109s approached 35,000, and variants were produced as late as 1956, a more than 20 year history of manufacture.

The ME109 is one of several planes contained in a WWII set of playing cards I have that are "spotter cards" showing the planes in profile. These were distributed to G.I.s and such in the war to allow them to learn the planes.

One of the problems with the 109 is as the war progressed it became less and less of a "dog fighter" and more of an interceptor. The model used now in AW, the 109-F4, was probably the best all around fighter of the entire line, and it was a fairly early production. The core of the problem with this plane in AW is that it has to deal with a Spitfire which is of later design and, lets face it, a much better plane. If AW were all about taking off, climbing hard, jumping a formation of bombers or fighters and BnZ'ing them briefly, then going home, then the 109 would probably be seen in a much more favorable light. Unfortunately AW doesn't always mirror the way the real war was fought, which in some ways is just as well (in the real war most pilots never saw combat).

Many players take the 109 up just to make a point about not taking the Spitfire. The important thing to note about this is that while the Spit is a better plane in almost every respect, the differences are often so marginal as to be almost inconsequential. The only thing a 109 fighter has to truly fear against a Spit is being sucked into extended, min radius flat turns - where the Spitfire has enough of an advantage to work a 109 over pretty well. The answer to this is to make a deliberate effort to stay away from these types of turns - a 109 should almost always favor a yo-yo, or Immel - something that maximizes the 109s climb ability and multi-stage flaps versus the Spit.

Against most other planes the 109 has a long list of tricks to pull. It's possibly the best fighter at rope a dope maneuvers, considering its low stall speed, "rocket assist" zoom climb, and snappy roll even at low speeds. As mentioned it has two-stage flaps that allow for interesting split-s and nose low turning capabilities, and it features 10 minutes of WEP unlike most fighters than can deliver 5 minutes (although at WEP settings it uses a percentage point of fuel every 11 seconds!). Almost every experienced 109 flier in the arena can be seen using these in combination against Spits and the like - dive in with a decent speed, hook the other fighter into following, pull what looks like a yo-yo into a hard zoom at an angle, and just at the point of stalling roll over, drop flaps and come down on top of the opponent. This works great unless the Spit behind you is hoarding speed, in which case it gets you into trouble fast.

Another aspect of the 109 that's appealing is it is less "twitchy" than the Spit and in most respects easier to control. That is, in turn fights it tends to black out less and it responds fairly predictably to various turn speeds and flap settings. I usually tell players just beginning to try the 109 over the Spit initially, as the Spit is a little more demanding of attention for a newer player. Some players never get used to the high instantaneous turn rate of the Spit or P38 that results in so many blackouts, and for these pilots the 109 is a more stable fighter capable of holding its own in most circumstances.

During World War II the general public in the Allied nations at first regarded the Messerschmitt Bf109 as an inferior weapon compared with the Spitfire and other Allied fighters such as the P51 Mustang. Only in the fullness of time was it possible to appreciate that the Bf109 was one of the greatest combat aircraft in history.

First flown in 1935, it was a major participant in the Spanish Civil War and a thoroughly proven combat aircraft by the time of the Munich meeting in September 1938. Early versions were the Bf109B, C and D, all of lower power than the definitive E version. The E was in service in great quantity by the end of August 1939 when the invasion of Poland began. From then until 1941, it was by far the most important fighter in the Luftwaffe, and it was also supplied in quantity to Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, Yugoslavia, Switzerland (which made the 109 under licence), Japan and the Soviet Union.

During the first year of World War II, the "Emil", as the various E sub-types were called, made mincemeat of the many and varied types of fighter against which it was opposed, with the single exception of the Spitfire (which it greatly outnumbered). Its best features were fast and cheap production, small size, high acceleration, fast climb and dive, and good manoeuverability. Nearly all Bf109E's were also fitted with two or three 20mm cannon, with range and striking power greater than a battery of eight rifle-calibre guns. Drawbacks were the narrow landing gear, severe swing on take-off or landing, extremly poor lateral control at high speeds, and the fact that in combat the slats on the wings often opened in tight turns; while this prevented a stall, it snatched at the ailerons and threw the pilot off his aim.

After 1942 the dominant version was the 109G ("Gustav") which made up over 70 per cent of the total received by the Luftwaffe. Though formidably armed and equipped, the vast swarms of "Gustavs" were nothing like such good machines as the lighter E and F, demanding constant pilot attention, constant high power settings, and having landing characteristics described as "malicious" by many pilots. Only a few of the extended span high-altitude H-series were built, but from October 1944 the standard production series was the K with clear-view "Galland hood", revised wooden tail and minor structural changes.

After World War II the Czech Avia firm found their Bf109 plant intact and began building the S-99; running out of DB605 engines they installed the slow-revving Jumo, producing the S-199 with even worse torque and swing than the German versions (pilots called it "Mezek", meaning the mule), but in 1948 managed to sell some to Israel. The Spanish Hispano Aviación flew its first licence-built 1109 in March 1945 and in 1953 switched to the merlin engine to produce the 1109-M1L Buchón (Pigeon). Several Hispano and Merlin versions were built in Spain, some being tandem-seat trainers. When the last HA-1112 flew out of Seville in late 1956, it closed out 21 years of manufacture of this classic fighter, during which total output probably exceeded 35,000 aircraft.

Parker Information Resources
Houston, Texas
E-mail: bparker@parkerinfo.com

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