Willi Messerschmitt (1898-1978) joined Bayerische Fleugzeugwerke AG (Bavarian Aircraft Company) in 1927 as chief designer. Before long, Messerschmitt dominated the company to the point where it was renamed Messerschmitt AG in 1938. By convention, BF/Messerschmitt aircraft first acquired before 1938 carry designations beginning with “Bf” while those designed after 1938 are prefixed “Me”. Messerschmitt produced sports and small transport aircraft prior to the mid-1930s German military buildup, when it switched to military designs and became known for its fighter aircraft during World War II. Messerschmitt designs were austere, simple and innovative.
Messerschmitt was essentially destroyed by the German defeat in World War II. While it persisted as a manufacturer of small, ugly automobiles, Willi Messerschmitt lent his design talents to Spain, producing the Hispano HA-200 jet trainer and assisting in the conversion of wartime German fighter and bomber designs to new engines for Franco’s postwar air force. In the 1960s, when Messerschmitt AG returned to manufacturing airplanes (albeit licensed designs from other countries), Messerschmitt remained in charge of the firm through 1970. Despite having been convicted of war crimes relating to the company’s use of slave labor, Messerschmitt’s reputation in the west eventually was rehabilitated. The company made a couple of acquisitions and was known as Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm (MBB) by the 1990s, when it was folded into Daimler-Benz Aerospace and ultimately EADS Germany. The vestigial company still maintains airworthy replicas of a Bf 109 and an Me 262 to celebrate its heritage.