Messerschmitt, Wilhelm Emil “Willy”

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Messerschmitt, Wilhelm Emil “Willy”, born on 26-05-1898 in Frankfurt am Main, was the son of a Wine merchant. As a young boy he became obsessed with aviation after seeing a Graf Zeppellin

airship. The young Messerschmitt helped out the German gliding pioneer Friedrich Harth  and it was Harth who arranged for Messerschmitt to work with him at a military flying school during the First World War. Harth and Messerschmitt together designed the S8 glider which Harth, on kept airborne for 21 minutes in 1921, a world record for glider flight at the time. In the late 20s and early 30s Messerschmitt designed the M20, a simple single-engined transport aircraft, the  that was cheap to operate. These were built under the auspices of the Bavarian Aircraft Works at Augsburg, the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke. General Field Marshal der Flieger, Erhard Milch,

as head of Lufthansa, forced bankruptcy on the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke in 1931 following further crashes of M20 aircraft. In 1933 Hitler came to power and German rearmament started (see Adolf Hitler). This gave Milch even greater power and it might have been expected that Messerschmitt  would suffer the same humiliation as another of Milch’s enemies; Hugo Junkers Junkers worked with Anthony Fokker and died very old age of 96, on 03-02-1935. However Messerschmitt had cultivated friends in high places, Rudolf Hess the deputy head of the Nazi party was one, Theo Croneiss, died 07-11-1942, a World War I fighter pilot and associate of Hermann Goering (see Goering Peter) (see Fock)(see Sonnemann) was another. The Bayerische Flugzeugwerke was resurrected in 1933 and set about getting government contracts. When the contest to find a new fighter for the Luftwaffe was announced Messerschmitt realised this was his chance. The design he and Lusser produced was outstanding; a small metal air frame built around a big engine with a thin wing for speed and Handley Page leading-edge slats to bring down the landing speed. It is hard for us today to realise just how revolutionary the Bf109 was. In the 1930’s many designers were experimenting with monoplane metal construction, retracting undercarriage, enclosed cockpits and high lift devices, Messerschmitt was the first to combine all of these elements into a single fighter. By this time Milch’s power to influence the choosing of new equipment for the Luftwaffe had been greatly diminished by the appointment of Ernst Udet, a flamboyant WWI fighter ace,

   to be head of the air force’s development section. When Udet first sat in the prototype 109 he declared it would never make a combat aircraft, but that was before he saw it fly and had flown it himself. First and foremost a man who loved to fly, and who excelled in aerobatics, Udet saw that the 109 was simply the best flying machine in the world at that time. He flew them himself in competition at the 1937 Zurich air races. Before the War started, Messerschmitt had developed the 209, perhaps the ultimate piston engined aircraft. Messerschmitt went on to design many other aircraft. The Bf 110 was a twin engined, two seat fighter that was used with great effect against Allied bombers.

 The most fantastic of Messerschmitt’s war-time designs was the Me 321, a giant glider able to carry a tank that led to the Me 323, a development fitted with engines that could carry up to 130 men. Perhaps Messerschmitt’s finest achievement was the beautiful Me 262  twin jet powered fighter with swept wings, a design years ahead of its time. The 262 saw combat at the end of the war but was never available in enough numbers to be anything but a nuisance to the air-forces ranged against Germany. Messerschmitt’s reputation as an aircraft designer is somewhat open to question. His early aircraft were all prone to failure, often with tragic loss of human life. Indeed it is hard to think of any other aircraft designer with such a record of disaster! It was only after 1933 with a new team of bright young engineers working for him that he had sustained success.  Perhaps he should be best remembered as an aviation visionary and organiser. There is no doubt that he was always questing after aircraft that would be better in every way. His passion for producing the fastest or biggest aircraft was exasperating to many of the Nazi and Luftwaffe bureaucrats who wanted all efforts concentrated on existing designs. After the war Messerschmitt was arrested and tried for having allowed the use of slave labour in his factories. He was in prison for two years. When released he set to work rebuilding his business. Not allowed to make aircraft in Germany one of his products was the Messerschmitt Bubble Car

Death and burial ground of Messerschmitt, Wilhelm Emil “Willy”

.   He managed to do some aircraft design for Hispano in Spain, including work on the HA 200 jet trainer. He also helped in the design of the HA-300 supersonic jet fighter for Egypt in the mid-60s. Problems with the engine meant this advanced tailed delta design never went into production. Willy Messerschmitt retired in 1970, died on 15-09-1978, age 80 and is buried on the Hauptfriedhof of Bamberg.

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