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The Bf 109 was the principal German single-engine fighter aircraft from before the start of World War II until the end of that conflict. Designed by Willi Messerschmitt when he was at Bayerische Flugzeugwerke, the Bf 109 first flew May 29, 1935, and early models were sent to Spain for operational combat testing in the Spanish Civil War. By the beginning of World War II in September 1939, this testing had already resulted in considerable development of the Bf 109 and of the tactics for using it, and the Luftwaffe, contained many pilots who had acquired great skill with the type. The Bf 109 was part of the first generation of all-metal monoplane fighters with enclosed canopies and retractable landing gear, a configuration that was to last until the jet age. The Bf 109 itself had a long service career lasting until the 1960s with license-built versions built in Spain and Czechoslovakia.
Before and during the war, about 34,000 Bf 109s were built in Germany, almost half of them in the year 1944. They were used in all theatres where the Germans fought, and also by the air forces of Italy, Hungary, and other wartime German satellites. After the war, leftover Bf 109s were operated by several air forces including Switzerland, Israel, Finland, Romania and Yugoslavia. The Spanish and Czechoslovakians kept their locally-built versions in service into the 1960s.
For many years genuine German Bf 109s were rare as static displays and non-existent in the air. Most of the survivors were war prizes on display at various national museums. As interest in wartime aircraft increased starting in the 1980s, various crash sites, especially in Russia, were scoured and more airframes recovered for rebuild. An original war-prize Bf 109G-2, the famous “Black 6”, was operated by the British government in airshows for some years in the 1980s and 1990s, but was grounded permanently after suffering damage in a crash. As the restoration movement gathered momentum, original Bf 109s began to reappear in the air. As of 2016 there are two or three such aircraft. There are also many more original Bf 109s on static display, probably about 30 worldwide.
Meanwhile, the Spanish-built Hispano Ha-1112 versions featured in the epic British movie “Battle of Britain” in 1969. Having been purchased from the Spanish government for the making of the movie, they were then distributed to museums and collectors, with several of them going to chief film pilot Wilson Edwards of Texas in payment for his services. At all times since the early 1970s, a few of these Hispanos have been active on the airshow circuits in the United States and Europe, and some of them have been converted to German engines to resemble original Bf 109s. They gained a reputation for being difficult to fly and were involved in numerous landing accidents over the years. Currently, more Bf 109s are in the pipeline for restoration and, though still a rare sight at airshows, the prospects are good for increased viewing opportunities of these classic machines.
The galleries below cover only German-built Bf 109s. See the Hispano Ha-1112 gallery for the postwar Spanish-built variant.
Bf 109 E-3 1190
The Imperial War Museum Bf 109E was shot down during the Battle of Britain on September 30, 1940, while with 4/JG.26 and sent on war bond fund raising tours. The plane was preserved in pretty good shape, so the museum decided to draw a line down the middle of the aircraft and restore half of it to the condition it crashed in in 1940 and leave the other half preserved, with original paint and the graffiti and minor damage it picked up during its wartime tour.
Bf 109E-3 1342
Flying Heritage Collection maintains this magnificent Bf 109E. It crashed during the Battle of Britain on July 29, 1940, flown by pilot Eduard Hemmerling of 6/JG.51. It is now registered N342FH and flies a few times a year in its original 1940 markings.
Bf 109E-7 3523
Coded “red 6” with 5/JG.5, this 109E crash-landed on a frozen lake in Finland on April 4,1942. It was originally built as a Bf 109E-1, later converted to an E-7. It was recovered in November 2002 in an amazingly good state of preservation and is now under restoration for its owners the Friedkin Collection, meanwhile displayed at Planes of Fame.
Bf 109E-3 3579
This Bf 109E crashed on August 2, 1942, in Russia, and the wreck was restored during the 1990s. Initially registered N81562 and based in California, for several years it was with the Russell Group in Canada registered C-FEML, then sold to a British owner in 2014 and now listed as G-CIPB.
Bf 109E-3 4101
The RAF Museum preserves this Bf 109E which was shot down relatively intact on November 27, 1940, repaired and evaluated early in World War II. It is painted in its own original markings as “black 12” of 2/JG.51, having also served with 6/JG.52. During the war the plane was repainted in RAF markings and allocated the serial DG200.
Bf 109G-6 160163
The National Air & Space Museum Bf 109G was captured as a war prize and evaluated by the Army Air Force at Wright Field in Ohio, coded FE-496. It was transferred to the Smithsonian immediately after the war, and was restored in time for the opening of the NASM in 1976, where it has been on display ever since. During the war it served with 3/JG.4, as “yellow 4,” but this was not known at the time of restoration, so it was restored from a photo as a representative Bf 109G.
Bf 109G-10 610824
The National Museum of the USAF displays this late-model Bf 109G-10. This machine serviced with II/JG.52 wearing “black 2” and after capture, was evaluated in the U.S. as FE-124. At some point it acquired the civil registration N109MS.
Bf 109G-14 610937
Although it may now have been sold with most of the rest of the collection’s warbirds, this very late Bf 109G has been displayed at the Evergreen Air Museum. After World War II, this plane went to the Bulgarian and then the Yugoslavian Air Forces, with the latter of which it was serial 9644. It is painted in the markings used by all-time top-scoring fighter pilot Erich Hartmann during the last months of World War II when he led I/JG.52 flying late model 109s such as this. Hartmann scored the last 18 of his 352 aerial victories while flying a 109 that looked like this.
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Bf 109G-10/U4 611943
Formerly “yellow 13” of II/JG.52 and thus a squadron-mate of the NMUSAF’s plane, Planes of Fame‘s Bf 109 was among the trove of surplus enemy types acquired by the museum’s founder in the 1950s. It had been evaluated by the Air Force as FE-122.
Messerschmitt Bf 109G-14 (composite)
Posed awkwardly over a staircase at the National World War II Museum, this Bf 109 is a composite restoration built up from parts. It is painted in the markings of Willi Trabert of JG.300.
Messerschmitt Bf 109G replica
This full-scale, homebuilt replica of a Bf 109G, registered N10901, was built by enthusiasts on Long Island, New York. It is dimensionally fairly accurate but not accurate in engine, structure or materials. These photos were taken with a temporary landing gear prior to flight testing.