Before Germany could mount Operation Sea Lion, a cross-channel invasion of the British Isles, it needed to have complete air superiority over the invasion fleet. Because of the Luftwaffe‘s greater numbers and modern aircraft, German military leadership believed this could best be accomplished by defeating the Royal Air Force in air-to-air combat.
The Royal Air Force had been conserving their limited numbers of pilots and aircraft up to this point in the war. Germany’s plan was to send its bombers against targets that the R.A.F. would be forced to defend. The escorting Messerschmitt Bf 109s (also referred to as the Me 109) would then shoot down the Boulton Paul Defiants and Bristol Blenheims. But the Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires were up to the task. While the Hurricanes went after the Luftwaffe’s Dornier 17 and Heinkel He 111 bombers, the Spitfires engaged their Bf 109 fighter escorts.
Britain used a system of radar-directed ground control of its fighter squadrons. The result was that, although both sides lost about the same number of aircraft, the Battle of Britain was a decisive victory for Great Britain. Germany was forced to give up on its plans for an invasion of England.
During a speech the House of Commons, 20 August 1940, Prime Minister Winston Churchill referred to the pilots of Fighter Command when he said,
“The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the world war by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”
Ever since, the Royal Air Force has been known as “The Few.”
Royal Air Force aircraft:
Highly recommended:Duel of Eagles, by Group Captain Peter Townsend, CVO, DSO, DFC and Bar, Royal Air Force. Cassell Publishers Limited, 1970 and Castle Books, 2003.
28 May 1935: Bayerische Flugzeugwerke Aktiengesellschaft (BFW) test pilot Hans-Dietrich Knoetzsch took the prototype Bf 109 V1 fighter, civil registration D-IABI, on its first flight at Haunstetten, near Augsburg, Germany. The duration of the flight was twenty minutes.
The new fighter was designed by Wilhelm Emil Messerschmitt, Walter Rethel and Robert Lusser. It was a light weight, single-seat, single-engine, low-wing monoplane with retractable landing gear.
The first prototype, Versuchsflugzeug 1, was 8.884 meters (29.147 feet) long with a wingspan of 9.890 meters (32.448 feet). The empty weight was 1,404 kilograms (3,095 pounds) and the maximum weight was 1,800 kilograms (3,968 pounds).
Because the Junkers Jumo 210 inverted V-12 engines planned for the new fighter were not yet available, a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,295.91-cubic-inch-displacement (21.24 liter) Rolls-Royce Kestrel VI single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 was installed. This British engine had four valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 6.00:1. It produced 695 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m., and turned a two-bladed, fixed-pitch Propellerwerk Gustav Schwarz laminated composite propeller through a 0.553:1 gear reduction. The Kestrel was 6 feet, 0.35 inches (1.838 meters) long, 2 feet, 11.00 inches (0.889 meters) high and 2 feet, 0.40 inches (0.620 meters) wide. It weighed 955 pounds (433 kilograms).
V1’s maximum airspeed was 470 kilometers per hour (292 miles per hour) and its maximum altitude was 8,000 meters (26,247 feet).
No armament was installed on the prototype.
The Bf 109 V1 was tested for several months before being sent to the Luftwaffe test center at Rechlin for acceptance trials. The prototype’s landing gear collapsed while landing there.
The prototype Bf 109 was revealed to the public when D-IABI flew at the Games of the XI Olympiad (the 1936 Summer Olympics, held at Berlin, Germany).
The Bf 109 (also known as the Me 109, following Willy Messerschmitt’s acquisition of BFW) was produced from 1937 to 1945. Total production was 33,894 aircraft, which amounted to 57% of total fighter production for Germany. Seven plants produced the Bf 109 during World War II.
After the war ended, Czechoslovakia produced a variant until 1948. Another Spanish-built variant remained in production until 1958.
31 March 1945: Messerschmitt Aktiengesellschaft test pilot and technical inspector Hans Fay (1888–1959) defected to the Allies at Frankfurt/Rhein-Main Airfield, Frankfurt, Germany.
He brought with him a brand-new Messerschmitt Me 262 A-1 twin-engine jet fighter.
Fay had been waiting for an opportunity to bring an Me 262 to the Americans, but feared reprisals against his parents. When he learned that the U.S. Army controlled their town, he felt that it was safe to go ahead with his plan.
On 31 March, Fay was ordered to fly one of twenty-two new fighters from the Me 262 assembly factory at Schwäbisch-Hall to a safer location at Neuburg an der Donau, as they were in danger of being captured by advancing Allied forces. His airplane was unpainted other than low visibility Balkenkreuz markings on the wings and fuselage, and standard Luftwaffe markings on the vertical fin. Fay was the fourth to take off, but instead of heading east-southeast toward Neuburg, he flew north-northwest to Frankfurt, arriving there at 1:45 p.m.
The Messerchmitt Me 262 Schwalbe was the first production jet fighter. It was a single-place, twin-engine airplane with the engines placed in nacelles under the wings. It was 34 feet, 9 inches (10.592 meters) long with a wingspan of 41 feet (12.497 meters) and overall height of 11 feet, 4 inches (3.454 meters). According to Fay, the fighter’s empty weight was 3,760 kilograms (8,289 pounds) and the maximum gross weight was 7,100 kilograms (15,653 pounds) at engine start.¹
The Me 262 A-1 was powered by two Junkers Jumo TL 109.004 B-1 turbojet engines. The 004 was an axial-flow turbojet with an 8-stage compressor section, six combustion chambers and single-stage turbine. The 004 engine case was made of magnesium for light weight, but this made it vulnerable to engine fires. The engine was designed to run on diesel fuel, but could also burn gasoline or, more commonly, a synthetic fuel produced from coal, called J2. The engine was first run in 1940, but was not ready for production until 1944. An estimated 8,000 engines were built. The 004 B-1 produced 1,984 pounds of thrust (8.825 kionewtons) at 8,700 r.p.m.
During interrogation, Hans Fay said that for acceptance, the production Me 262 was required to maintain a minimum of 830 kilometers per hour (515 miles per hour) in level flight, and 950 kilometers per hour (590 miles per hour) in a 30° dive. The fighter’s cruise speed was 750 kilometers per hour (466 miles per hour).
A number of factors influenced the Me 262’s maximum range, but Fay estimated that the maximum endurance was 1 hour, 30 minutes. U.S. Air Force testing establish the range as 650 miles (1,046 kilometers) and service ceiling at 38,000 feet (11,582 meters).
It was armed with four 30 mm Rheinmetall-Borsig MK 108 autocannons with a total of 360 rounds of ammunition. It could also be armed with twenty-four R4M Orkan 55 mm air-to-air rockets. Two bomb racks under the wings could each be loaded with a 500 kilogram (1,102 pounds) bomb.
1,430 Me 262s were produced. They entered service during the summer of 1944. Luftwaffe pilots claimed 542 Allied airplanes shot down with the Me 262.
Hans Fay’s Messerschmitt Me 262 A-1, WNr. 111711, was transported to the United States and was tested at Wright Field, Dayton, Ohio.
711 was lost during a test flight, 20 August 1946, when one of its engines caught fire. The test pilot, Lieutenant Walter J. “Mac” McAuley, Jr., U.S. Army Air Corps, safely bailed out. The Me 262 crashed 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) east of Lumberton, Ohio, and was completely destroyed.
¹ A technical report from RAE Farnborough gave the empty weight of the Me 262 as 11,120 pounds ( kilograms). Its “all up weight,” less ammunition, was 14,730 pounds ( kilograms).
16 February 1967: At Ottobrun, Germany, test pilot Wilfried von Engelhardt made the first flight of the Bölkow-Entwicklungen KG Bo-105 prototype V-2, D-HECA, a twin-engine, rigid rotor helicopter. This was the second prototype. The first one was destroyed by ground resonance during pre-flight testing.
Messerschmitt AG merged with Bölkow-Entwicklungen KG in June 1968, becoming Messerschmitt-Bölkow. The following year, the new company merged with Blohm & Voss to become Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm, or MBB. The Bo-105 entered production in 1970.
The Bo-105 is a 5-place light helicopter powered by two turboshaft engines. It has a four-bladed rigid (or hingeless) main rotor. This gives it a high degree of maneuverability, and it is capable of performing aerobatic maneuvers. The two-bladed tail rotor is mounted high on a pylon and gives exceptional ground clearance for a helicopter of this size. There are two “clam shell” doors located at the rear of the cabin section, giving access to a large flat floor. The helicopter has been widely used by military, law enforcement and as an air ambulance.
The Bo-105 is 38 feet, 11 inches (11.86 meters) long. The diameter of the main rotor is 32 feet, 3.5 inches (9.84 meters). Overall height is 9 feet, 10 inches (3.00 meters). The helicopter has an empty weight of 2,813 pounds (1,276 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 5,511 pounds (2,500 kilograms).
The prototype was powered by two Allison 250-C18 turboshaft engines, with increasingly more powerful 250-C20, -C20B and C-28C engines being added through the production run. The Allison 250-C18 is a 2-spool, reverse-flow, gas turbine engine with a 6-stage axial-flow, 1-stage centrifugal-flow, compressor section, and a 4-stage axial-flow turbine (2-stage gas producer, and 2-stage power turbine). The 250-C18 is rated at 317 shaft horsepower at 6,000 r.p.m. (100% N2). These were very light weight engines, ranging from just 141 to 173 pounds (64.0 to 78.5 kilograms).
The helicopter’s cruise speed is 127 miles per hour (204 kilometers per hour) and maximum speed is 167 miles per hour (242 kilometers per hour). The range is 691 miles (1,112 kilometers. Service ceiling is 17,000 feet (5,180 meters).
The Bo-105 was produced in Germany, Canada, Spain, Indonesia and the Philippines from 1967 to 2001. More than 1,500 have been built.
Wilfried Baron von Englehardt died 24 January 2015 at the age of 86 years.
11 November 1937: At Augsburg, Germany, Dr.-Ing. Hermann Wurster set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course when he flew a prototype Bayerische Flugzeugwerke AG Bf 109, D-IPKY, to an average speed of 610.95 kilometers per hour (379.63 miles per hour) in four passes over a 3-kilometer course.¹ This broke the speed record set two years earlier by Howard Hughes with his Hughes H-1 Special, NR258Y, by 43.83 kilometers per hour (27.23 miles per hour).²
Versuchsflugzeug 13, the BFW Bf 109 V13, Werk-Nr. 1050 (FAI records describe it as a Messerchmitt BF113, and contemporary news reports referred to it as the Messerschmitt BF 113R), was one of four prototypes built from production Junkers Jumo 210-powered Bf 109B airframes to test the Daimler-Benz AG DB 600 engine. It was given a civil registration, D-IPKY. Along with two Bf 109B fighters, V13 was part of an aerial demonstration team which was sent to the International Flying Meeting at Dübendorf, Switzerland, during the last week of July 1937. It was equipped with a Daimler-Benz DB 600 rated at 960 horsepower.
On its return from Switzerland, V13 was prepared for a speed record attempt. It was given a standard drag reduction for racing airplanes, with all its seams filled and sanded smooth, and a coat of paint. A modified version of the DB 601 engine was installed, reportedly capable of producing 1,660 horsepower for five minutes, with its maximum r.p.m increased from 2,500 to 2,800. It used special Bosch spark plugs. A three-bladed variable-pitch propeller was driven through gear reduction, although the gear ratio is unknown.
Like the Jumo 210, the Daimler-Benz 601 was a liquid-cooled, supercharged, single overhead cam, inverted 60° V-12, though with a much larger displacement. The DB 601 had a displacement of 33.929 liters (2,070.475 cubic inches). An improvement of the DB 600, the 601 series used direct fuel injection rather than a carburetor, and a hydraulically-driven two-speed supercharger.
A production Daimler-Benz DB 601 A had a compression ratio of 6.9:1 and was rated at 1,050 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. at 5.2 inches of pounds per square inch (0.36 Bar) of boost, for take-off (1 minute limit). It could produce 970 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. with 2.4 pounds per square inch (0.17 Bar) of boost at 12,000 feet (3,658 meters). Its propeller gear reduction ratio was 14:9. The DB 601 A was 67.5 inches (1.715 meters) long, 29.1 inches (0.739 meters) wide, and 40.5 inches (1.029 meters) high. It weighed 1,610 pounds (730.3 kilograms).
The Bf 109D production variant was developed from V13.
In 1938, BFW became Messerschmitt AG. The Bf 109 (also commonly called the Me 109) was produced from 1937 to 1945. Total production was 33,894 aircraft, which amounted to 57% of total fighter production for Germany. Seven plants produced the 109 during World War II. After the war ended, Czechoslovakia produced a variant until 1948. Another Spanish-built variant, the Hispano Aviación HA-1112, remained in production until 1958.
Herman Wurster was born at Stuttgart, Germany, 25 September 1907. In 1926, he began studying aircraft at Königlich Bayerische Technische Hochschule München (TH Munich) and at TH Stuttgart (the Stuttgart Technology Institute of Applied Sciences). He earned a doctorate in engineering (Dr.-Ing.) in 1933. He then became the chief designer for the German Research Institute for Aviation (Deutschen Versuchsanstalt für Luftfahrt) in Berlin.
In 1935 and 1936, Dr.-Ing. Wurster was a test pilot for the Luftwaffe‘s testing site at Rechlin, Mecklenburg, Germany. From 1936 until 1943, he was the chief test pilot for Bayerische Flugzeugwerk and Messerschmitt at Augsburg. From 1943 until the end of the war, Wurster was responsible for the development of Messerschmitt’s rocket-powered surface-to-air guided missile, the Enzian E.1 and its variants.
After the war, Dr.-Ing. Wurster founded a building materials company at Nördlingen, Bavaria. He died in Augsburg 17 October 1985 at the age of 78 years.