The Messerschmitt Bf 109 was one of the great fighter aircraft of the Second World War and arguably the most famous German aircraft ever built. In addition to the German Air Force, the Bf 109 also served in the air forces of Spain, Czechoslovakia, and Israel, with some still flying as late as 1967. It is estimated that approximately 35,000 were constructed over the life of the aircraft.
German engineer Willy Messerschmitt initiated design of the Bf 109 in late 1933 in response to a government specification for a new fighter aircraft. It was his first military fighter design and followed along the lines of his successful civil sport plane, the Bf 108 Taifun. The all-metal stressed-skin prototype Bf 109A first flew in September 1935, and the first production Bf 109B-1 appeared in the spring of 1937. At the time, it was the most technically advanced fighter in the world. Later that year, a specially equipped version set a world speed record which stood for many years.
The aircraft made its combat debut in 1937 as the Bf 109B variant, which flew with Francisco Franco’s forces in the Spanish Civil War. A number of improvements were made as a result of combat experience and a succession of versions, including the C, D and, ultimately the E model, evolved. By the outbreak of World War II in September 1939, the Bf 109E had proven itself in battle in Spain and Poland. The Bf 109E and the British Spitfire I were principal adversaries during the Battle of Britain. They were remarkably closely matched, with the Bf 109E holding the advantage of heavier armament, a fuel injected engine, and a higher rate of climb. However, the Messerschmitt suffered from “heavy” control forces at high speed, which limited rapid maneuvers, and proved susceptible to high speed stalls, which made dive pull-outs within 3,000 feet of the ground highly dangerous. Of greatest importance during the Battle of Britain, the limited fuel capacity of the Bf 109E limited time over England to about 20 minutes before necessitating return to German airfields across the English Channel.
The year 1941 saw the advent of the Bf 109F, a clearly improved version; this was soon replaced by the more powerful and better armed Bf 109G, which was produced in the greatest numbers of all variants (in excess of 14,000 in 1944 alone, and a total of 33,000). Other minor types followed, with the Bf 109K entering production in 1945, though not produced in quantity.
The Museum’s Bf 109G-14 is a full-scale wood model constructed by George N. Lucas of Rochester, New York, completed in August 1978. In 1981 Lucas donated the model to the Dominguez Rancho Adobe Museum in Carson, California. They, in turn, donated it to the March Air Force Base Museum in California. The San Diego Air & Space Museum acquired it from the March Air Force Base Museum in 1983.
Our Museum’s model is representative of the Messerschmitt Bf 109G-14 flown by Luftwaffe ace Erich Hartmann. During the fall of 1944, at the age of 22, Major Hartmann became Gruppenkommandeur (Group Commander) of Jagdgruppe 52, with three squadrons under his command. By war’s end, he was the world’s highest scoring ace with 352 claimed aerial victories.