Don’t let the graceful lines of the early Bf 109 fool you—
this aircraft was as deadly as it was beautiful.
When introduced in 1935, Willy Messerschmitt’s Bf 109 was nothing short of revolutionary. Luftwaffe pilots were initially wary of the high wing loading,
the side-hinged canopy, and the narrow track of the
Some of their fears were well founded. For instance, the
landing gear arrangement that greatly simplified manufacturing
and maintenance also contributed to thousands of accidents.
But after pilots such as Ernst Udet embraced the little hot rod,
the Bf 109 began shattering speed and agility records at the
great prewar air meets of Europe.
By 1945, the Bf 109 was the preferred mount of many of
the Luftwaffe’s top aces, including the highest-scoring ace of
all time—Erich Hartmann, with 352 victories. Repeatedly
upgraded, the 109 was in continuous production throughout
the war. Nearly 34,000 were completed, including license-built
models in Spain and Czechoslovakia—more than any other
fighter in history. Incredibly, the last operational mission for the
Bf 109 was in 1967 in the same Spanish skies where it first saw
combat in the 1930s.
The early variants of the 109, from the “V” prototypes
through the Bf 109E or Emil, can be distinguished from the
later marks by their square wingtips. The earlier variants also
tended to be aerodynamically cleaner, as various bumps and
bulges were added from the Gustav onward to accommodate
the heavier weapons that they carried. Many builders prefer
the battle-hardened Gustav, but I find the earlier variants
sleeker and more appealing.
If the clean lines and historical significance of the Bf 109
aren’t enough of an attraction, there are also myriad paint
schemes for consideration. These range from the aircraft of the
Condor Legion in Spain, to those that battled over France and
Britain, and to the aircraft stationed in North Africa. If frontline schemes don’t turn your crank, there were several colorful,
polished, prewar racers that are bound to turn heads at the
47 Model Aviation SEP TEMBER 2016
Build a Messerschmitt Bf 109
by Paul Kohlmann
Photos by the author