Messerschmitt, Willi E.

SUBJECT AREA: Aerospace
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b. 26 June 1898 Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany
d. 17 September 1978 Munich, Germany
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German aircraft designer noted for successful fighters such as the Bf 109, one of the world's most widely produced aircraft.
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Messerschmitt studied engineering at the Munich Institute of Tchnology and obtained his degree in 1923. By 1926 he was Chief Designer at the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke in Augsburg. Due to the ban on military aircraft in Germany following the First World War, his early designs included gliders, light aircraft, and a series of high-wing airliners. He began to make a major impact on German aircraft design once Hitler came to power and threw off the shackles of the Treaty of Versailles, which so restricted Germany's armed forces. In 1932 he bought out the now-bankrupt Bayerische Flugzeugwerke, but initially, because of enmity between himself and the German aviation minister, was not invited to compete for an air force contract for a single-engined fighter. However, in 1934 Messerschmitt designed the Bf 108 Taifun, a small civil aircraft with a fighter-like appearance. This displayed the quality of his design and the German air ministry was forced to recognize him. As a result, he unveiled the famous Bf 109 fighter which first flew in August 1935; it was used during the Spanish Civil War in 1936–9, and was to become one of the foremost combat aircraft of the Second World War. In 1938, after several name changes, the company became Messerschmitt Aktien-Gesellschaft (and hence a change of prefix from Bf to Me). During April 1939 a Messerschmitt aircraft broke the world air-speed record at 755.14 km/h (469.32 mph): it was entered in the FAI records as a Bf 109R, but was more accurately a new design designated Me 209V-1.
During the Second World War, the 5/70P was progressively improved, and eventually almost 35,000 were built. Other successful fighters followed, such as the twin-engined Me 110 which also served as a bomber and night fighter. The Messerschmitt Me 262 twin-engined jet fighter, the first jet aircraft in the world to enter service, flew during the early years of the war, but it was never given a high priority by the High Command and only a small number were in service when the war ended. Another revolutionary Messerschmitt AG design was the Me 163 Komet, the concept of Professor Alexander Lippisch who had joined Messerschmitt's company in 1939; this was the first rocket-propelled fighter to enter service. It was a small tailless design capable of 880 km/hr (550 mph), but its duration under power was only about 10 minutes and it was very dangerous to fly. From late 1944 onwards it was used to intercept the United States Air Force bombers during their daylight raids. At the other end of the scale, Messerschmitt produced the Me 321 Gigant, a huge transport glider which was towed behind a flight of three Me 110s. Later it was equipped with six engines, but it was an easy target for allied fighters. This was a costly white elephant, as was his high-speed twin-engined Me 210 fighter-bomber project which nearly made his company bankrupt. Nevertheless, he was certainly an innovator and was much admired by Hitler, who declared that he had "the skull of a genius", because of the Me 163 Komet rocket-powered fighter and the Me 262.
At the end of the war Messerschmitt was detained by the Americans for two years. In 1952 Messerschmitt became an aviation adviser to the Spanish government, and his Bf109 was produced in Spain as the Hispano Buchon for a number of years and was powered by Rolls-Royce Merlin engines. A factory was also constructed in Egypt to produce aircraft to Messerschmitt's designs. His German company, banned from building aircraft, produced prefabricated houses, sewing machines and, from 1953 to 1962, a series of bubble-cars: the KR 175 (1953–55) and the KR 200 (1955–62) were single-cylinder three-wheeled bubble-cars, and the Tiger (1958–62) was a twin-cylinder, 500cc four-wheeler. In 1958 Messerschmitt resumed aircraft construction in Germany and later became the Honorary Chairman of the merged Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm company (now part of the Franco-German Eurocopter company).
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Further Reading
van Ishoven, 1975, Messerschmitt. Aircraft Designer, London. J.Richard Smith, 1971, Messerschmitt. An Air-craft Album, London.
Anthony Pritchard, 1975, Messerschmitt, London (describes Messerschmitt aircraft).
JDS / CM

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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