Without a doubt, the
Messerschmitt Bf 109 was Germany's most important, and most numerous, fighter of
World War II. With more than 30,000 of all variants produced, it is easily the
most numerous of any fighter type of the war. First flown in 1935 as the Bf
109a, this arch-enemy of Great Britain was fitted with, of all things, a
Rolls-Royce engine. It did not meet with instantaneous enthusiasm from pilots
used to open cockpits, two wings, and great low-speed agility such as the
biplanes of World War I. However, it was ultimately ordered into production and
in time, developed into the superior E-4, when the DB 601 engine was finally
available in quantity.
The "Emil" was a fine
aircraft and served well on the front lines through the middle of 1940, when its
limitations became more obvious. The most glaring problem was range. In
addition, while the top speed of the aircraft was identical to the Spitfire Mk I
against which it was matched, it did not dive well and suffered from poor fuel
economy due to its rather cobbled-together design. The underwing radiators
added considerable drag, and the controls tended to feel as though they were
embedded in cement after about 400 mph indicated airspeed. The Emil had a good
deal of trouble pulling out of a fast dive, and more than one Bf 109E pilot was
killed trying to follow a Spitfire in a dive. The elevator simply would not
provide enough force at high speed to pull out if the pilot waited until he was
too close to the ground.
shortcomings, the plane had strengths that could be exploited. The direct fuel
injection meant the engine would never cut out due to negative g-forces, as
would the Hurricanes with their gravity carburetors. The plane was quite agile
at low and medium speeds and had well-harmonized controls up to about 300 mph
indicated airspeed. The automatic leading edge slats did have their advantages
in a tight turn, although the Spitfires, with their much greater wing area,
could still turn inside the Bf 109 without any problem.
A well-flown Bf 109 E,
regardless of its warts, was always a worthy competitor for a Spitfire Mk IA,
and was a better plane than the Hurricane in many respects. However, in the
end, the plane was not developed quickly enough and it was the Focke-Wulf 190 to
which the torch was passed in the spring of 1941. By that time, the Battle of
Britain was over and a different kind of war had begun, this time over the
The Bf 109 was developed
into several more refined variations, with the Bf 109G perhaps being the best
overall of the bunch. But the Bf 109 E is the one that most World War II
aficionados will recognize because of its prominent role in the Battle of
Britain. It truly was one of the seminal fighters of World War II, and no
collection of the best fighters of the early war would be complete without it.
General Information -
Messerschmitt Bf 109 E-4
The Bf 109 E-4 appeared
first in late 1939. Later versions, as depicted by the Wings of Power aircraft,
utilized the DB 601Aa engine of 1175 HP for takeoff, and incorporated a single
20 mm cannon that fired through the propeller shaft as well as the usual
complement of two cannon in the wings and twin 7.92 mm machine guns in the
cowling. This was perhaps the most common of the German fighters to participate
in the Battle of Britain, and several variations, including a fighter/bomber
capable of carrying a 250 kg bomb, were evolved from this version.
- Empty Weight: 2,051 kg
- Wingspan: 36.5 feet
- Wing Area: 174 square
- Normal Takeoff Weight:
2,531 kg (5,580 lbs.)
- Maximum Takeoff Weight:
2,834 kg (6,250 lbs.)
- Top Speed @ sea level:
290 mph TAS
- Top Speed: 355 mph TAS @
16,400 feet MSL
- Stalling Speed, clean
(5,580 lbs.): 120 km/hr (65 knots) IAS
- Stalling Speed, landing
(5,580 lbs.): 98 km/hr (53 knots) IAS
- Service Ceiling: 10,000
meters (32,810 feet)
- Powerplant: Daimler-Benz
DB601Aa, 1175 HP Takeoff, 1100 HP for climbing.
- Armament: (2) 7.92 mm
machine guns firing through the propeller with 500 rounds per gun, one 20mm
cannon firing through the spinner with 200 rounds, and one 20 mm cannon in
each wing with 60 rounds per gun.
Weights and Loading
The Wings of Power
Messerschmitt Bf 109 E-4 is equipped with realistic payload, fuel, and station
load positioning. This aircraft carried all of its fuel behind the pilot, to
counterbalance the weight of the engine. With a full fuel load and ammunition
payloads, the aircraft is well-balanced with a CG of 26.8 percent. With no fuel
and all other payloads, the CG is reduced to 18.9 percent, which is a very
nose-heavy condition. Removal of the ammunition payloads has little effect,
changing the CG to 19 percent. When fully-fueled and loaded, the aircraft is
rigged to take off with neutral trim, and if the ammunition weight is removed, a
slight nose-down trim of up to 1 degree is desirable but not necessary. The
fully-loaded and fueled plane is well-balanced and easy to fly, and even with a
low fuel load, adequate trim is available to compensate. There is a 60-lb.
weight placed behind the pilot strictly to compensate for the weight of the
engine. This should remain in place at all times.
When on the ground the
plane is quite tail-heavy and brakes can be use firmly with little danger of
"nosing up" or tipping over and striking the propeller. However, this makes
turns more difficult. Apply differential braking and power to assist with
Cockpit Check -
- Parking Brake - Set
- Fuel Selector - Main tank
- Elevator Trim - neutral
- Flaps - 20 degrees
- Propeller Control - 12:00
- Radiator flaps - OPEN
- Flight Instruments -
Checked and Set
- Engine Instruments -
- Switches - Checked
Mixture Control - Fuel
This aircraft is equipped
with direct fuel injection and no mixture adjustments are possible.
The radiator shutters
increase drag and thus should be closed unless climbing or taxying. Top speed
will be reduced if the radiator flap is open.
This aircraft is equipped
with a fully-feathering VDM airscrew and the control of engine RPM is somewhat
different than on aircraft with a normal constant speed propeller, which limits
blade angle. The Bf 109 E propeller can be placed in any position from 22.5
degrees (fine pitch/high speed) to 90 degrees (fully feathered). This gives the
aircraft certain advantages which tend to help it but also requires additional
attention from the pilot. At the fully-feathered position, which is also called
the "dive" position, the prop creates very little wind resistance. In this
position, with the prop control pulled all the way back, the plane will
certainly dive faster. However, the throttle must be cracked at least slightly
open during a dive because if it is pulled back to idle, the engine may quit
after pulling out of the dive. The prop will create almost zero thrust and drag
at the feathered position but it creates a considerable load on the engine and
if it stops windmilling, as at the end of the dive, the engine may stop.
The much greater propeller
range allows the RPM to be reduce to just above idle with considerable thrust.
For cruising, this is called the "patrol" setting and allows RPM settings of as
low as 1200, much lower than those seen on comparable Allied aircraft which have
blade limitations. This feature compensates to some degree for the much higher
coefficient of drag exhibited by the Bf 109 E airframe, which results in much
higher fuel consumption during cruise and tends to limit diving speed. If the
propeller is fully feathered during the dive, the Bf 109 E can be competitive
with the Spitfire, but it still cannot dive quite as quickly and is much harder
to pull out of the dive as the controls become much less responsive than the
Spitfire at high indicated airspeeds. Likewise, the deeper angle achievable by
the Bf 109 E propeller allows very low engine RPM with fairly high boost
pressures and good thrust levels. Even so, the Bf 109 cannot match the Spitfire
in specific range.
- Cockpit Check - COMPLETE
- Hold brakes.
- Turn the battery switch
- Recheck fuel supply ON.
- Turn the magneto switch
- Set fuel cutoff control
- Use manual fuel pump to
pressurize the fuel lines.
- Prime engine if cold
using priming pump (3-4 shots).
- Turn master ignition
- Engage starter switch
until the engine starts.
- Check engine instruments
to confirm oil pressure rises to at least 4 kg/cm2 within 30
- Fuel pressure should rise
to 1-1.8 kg/cm2.
- Idle at 700 RPM until the
oil temperature reaches 30 degrees C.
- Turn ON generator.
- Turn ON avionics.
- Check all instruments for
- After warm-up, idle at
800 RPM or slightly less.
Pre-takeoff and Taxi
- See that the elevator
trim tab is properly set.
- Check prop is set to
11:30 on the pitch clock.
- Recheck fuel ON.
- Check flaps are at 20
- Check radiator flap is
- Test brakes.
- Check the magnetos at
1900 RPM. 150 RPM drop maximum.
The takeoff procedure for
the Bf 109 E is somewhat different than for the Spitfire or other fighters of
this type. The aircraft is very tail-heavy, which creates additional stability
and eliminates the need for a tailwheel lock. However, instead of holding the
stick full back, hold the stick fully forward and to the right, placing it in
the right corner of the cockpit. The tail is slower to come up than on the
Spitfire, but comes up easily enough once the plane gets up to about 100 kph
IAS. Use the rudder for directional control as you would with any taildragger
of this type. However, do NOT take off in a three-point attitude or try to
hoist the plane off the ground too quickly. The leading edge slats may deploy
automatically and create a control problem. Hold plane level on the main wheels
and make sure you have plenty of flying speed, and then lift off gently. After
retracting the gear and flaps, climb normally at the desired speed (see "Climb
Normal takeoff power is
1.25 ata and 2400 RPM. Set the propeller clock at 11:30 for this RPM setting
(approximate, adjust after takeoff). War emergency power of 1.3 ata and 2500
RPM can be used if desired. See engine limitations below for more information.
- Raise the landing gear.
- Raise the flaps.
- Adjust the engine RPM to
- Trim the aircraft as
required for climbing.
- Leave radiator flap open.
- Check all instruments.
A standard climb per the
manual is made at 250 kph IAS (135 KIAS) at sea level with a manifold pressure
of 1.25 ata and the engine set to 2400 RPM. A climb to 6000 meters (19,700)
feet can be accomplished in about 7.8 minutes and will cover about 21 statute
miles. As you climb, allow the indicated airspeed to decline until you are
climbing at 112 KIAS at 6000 meters (19,750 feet) and 105 KIAS at 8,000 meters
(26,300 feet). A climb to this altitude will use about 17 gallons of fuel. For
maximum performance, climb at 1.3 and 2500 RPM (5 minute limitation). This
climb will allow you to attain the greatest height in the shortest distance.
The climb can also be made
at higher speed, beginning at 275 kph IAS (148 KIAS) at sea level. Maintain
this climbing speed until reaching 6,000 meters, and then allow the speed to
drop to 225 kph IAS (122 KIAS) at 8,000 meters. The rate of climb is slightly
faster, and the distance covered will be substantially farther. The engine will
stay much cooler at the higher indicated airspeed.
For maximum range, climb
at 1.0 ata and 2100 RPM with a steady climbing speed of 265 kph IAS (143 KIAS).
Cruise Control Schedule
Calculate your fuel
consumption and time to your destination using the following table.
Altitude, feet (m)
Engine Limitations and
The Daimler-Benz DB601Aa
engine is an excellent performer to medium altitudes. This engine had an
improved supercharger coupling and was able to reach slightly higher top speeds,
at slightly higher altitudes, than earlier versions of the Bf 109 E-4. War
Emergency power should be used for only five minutes at a time.
ENGINE POWER CHART
Landing (5,500 lbs)
- Check fuel ON.
- Set the prop to about
2400 RPM (11:30 on the pitch clock).
- Check the traffic pattern
and obtain clearance to land.
- Slow down to below 350
kph IAS and lower the landing gear. Retrim as needed.
- Lower the flaps to about
20 degrees after slowing to 250 kph IAS. The flaps are manual and will take
some time to lower.
- The normal speed in the
traffic pattern with wheels down is 200 kph IAS.
- Lower the flaps to the
second position after turning to your final approach.
- Fly the final approach at
150 kph IAS , crossing the runway threshold at 145 kph IAS.
- Break your glide just
above the runway and touch down with the tailwheel a little off the ground
at 125 kph IAS.
- Lower the tailwheel
- Brake as necessary. The
brakes can be used more aggressively due to the aft center of gravity.
Bf109 is a very pilot-friendly aircraft and has no real vices. The narrow undercarriage requires extra attention during taxi maneuvers
and the heavy tail requires differential braking and application of throttle to
turn easily. Roll response is quite good up to about 450 kph
IAS (300 KIAS). Beyond 640 kph IAS (350 KIAS), however, the
controls will get very heavy and the aircraft will become very difficult to
roll. Do not exceed 750 kph IAS (405 KIAS) in a dive. The elevator loses authority quite quickly at higher airspeeds, making
the plane more difficult to get into an accelerated stall (the automatic slats
also help with this), but in a dive the lack of elevator control can be
problematic. Be sure to pull out while you have plenty of
altitude, above 1000 meters (3,280 feet) AGL.
power-off, 1g stall is very gentle for this type of aircraft, owing in part to
the automatic slats. The wing will drop to one side or
another, usually to the left if there is any power applied.
Recovery is normal. Accelerated stalls will result in a more
sudden departure and will require immediate corrective action but there is
usually plenty of time to recover. The aircraft will spin if
not brought back under control promptly, but spin recovery is usually prompt,
within one turn, with normal recovery procedures.
high performance plane of this type, spins are not recommended. The aircraft will tend to lose a good deal of altitude if recovery is not
immediate. Power-on spins are much worse; if the aircraft spins with power on,
cut the power, push the stick forward, neutralize the ailerons, and apply rudder
opposite the direction of the spin.