Messerschmitt Bf 109 E vol. I

Brand-new Bf 109 Es at one of factory airfields. Noteworthy are manufacturer’s radio call sign codes – Stammkennzeichen – painted on fuselages and wings after acceptance flight tests. [via Marian Krzyżan]

 

What was gained?
The successful adaptation of DB 601 engine to the Bf 109 airframe eliminated two most notorious drawbacks of the early design. The new Messerschmitt was no longer unresponsive and featured improved medium and high altitude performance. More power also translated into heavier internal weapons load that now could be carried. The engine’s modern design provided automated flight operation, which meant the pilot was practically free from monitoring engine parameters in air combat. In simple terms, the engine automation adjusted boost air pressure depending on flight altitude, controlled ignition and fuel injection and governed prop pitch via an electrically powered mechanism. During normal flight automatic mode operation produced optimum operating parameters and fuel burn. In air combat the system allowed the pilot to concentrate on the fight and fire control. In such situations the engine was supposed to deliver maximum power on demand, regardless of flight conditions – and it did so, extremely well. When in danger, a Messerschmitt would just firewall the throttle and the engine immediately responded with increased fuel flow to the injectors, higher boost air pressure and required prop pitch. The Messerschmitt would then accelerate rapidly behind a visible, black trail of exhaust smoke. Apart from that “automatic support” the engine offered improved durability at extreme power settings, a feature that many rookie pilots really appreciated. Simple operation of the powerplant not only offered an option to disengage from the fight and return to base safely, but also prevented engine damage at prolonged emergency power settings.

Bf 109 E cockpit interior. Noteworthy aspects include early-production instruments, KG 12 control column and Revi C/12C gunsight. Of further interest is an additional control panel for external ordnance. [via Marian Krzyżan]

 

The Messerschmitt’s dark side
When looking at critical opinions of former Bf 109 E pilots it is hard not to notice a striking contrast between an excellent engine and simple, unsophisticated airframe. Messerschmitt 109 was a difficult mount for inexperienced pilots. The huge power surplus meant that during the take-off roll and immediately after rotation the pilot had to work real hard to counter very strong left yaw tendency. The Messerschmitt was tail heavy and during ground operations turns had to be accomplished using full rudder deflection and aggressive wheel braking. Landing with any degree of slip or skid would invariable result to landing gear damage. In three-point configuration forward visibility was appalling and on rollout very judicious use of brakes was required, or the aircraft would promptly flip on its back. In the air, at medium speeds, the aircraft was easy to control, but at speeds approaching maximum values the flight controls became increasingly stiff and required substantial physical strength to operate. At slow speeds, near the stall, the pilot had to use good judgment in adjusting power and be ever mindful of leading edge slats popping out unexpectedly. The German pilots biggest headache during the air battles over England and the Channel was the Messerschmitt’s inadequate fuel supply. On many occasions they could do little more than turn around and run for home when their fuel status approached the minimum.
The fighter’s weapons fit was augmented by the addition of 20 mm cannons, although they had their weaknesses, too: modest ammunition supply, low muzzle velocity and rate of fire, to mention just a few. Early lessons learned in combat operations demonstrated that cockpit armor protection needed to be strengthened. The solution was the re-design of the windshield to include a thick, bullet-proof front panel and the addition of armor plating behind the pilot’s back. The re-designed windshield, stronger, heavier canopy framing and armor plating behind the pilot’s seat installed on Bf 109 E models further deteriorated visibility from the fighter’s cockpit. The cockpit itself was cramped and very uncomfortable. Former Messerschmitt pilots agree that any sortie longer than 45 minutes was extremely exhausting. During air combat thick canopy frames made maintaining situational awareness difficult. Many pilots complained about gun discharge gases and exhaust fumes entering the cockpit. The aircraft’s engine cooling system did not provide the option to cut off a damaged radiator and maintain coolant flow, so a hit in the cooling system resulted in immediate loss of coolant followed by engine overheating and seizure.

 

Rigging up a 250 kg bomb under Bf 109 E. Details of ETC 500 / IXb rack are seen to advantage. [via Stipdonk]

The legend lives on
A wreckage of a Bf 109 E  was recovered in Russia in 1990. The aircraft was completely stripped down and rebuilt to a flying condition in England. It was then purchased by a well-known aircraft collector Ed Russel and shipped to the U.S. Today the white “14”, rebuilt to almost stock configuration, is the only airworthy example of the type. The aircraft has a very impressive combat record dating back to air battles over England. On several occasions (albeit in its original E-1 configuration) it was flown by none other than legendary Hans-Joachim Marseille. After overhaul and some upgrade work the fighter went on to serve in Russia, where it was eventually abandoned. After fifty years and a costly rebuild the aircraft is now one of the most unique examples of the Messerschmitt 109 living legend.

Bf 109 E variants
The E model went into production in 1938.
Compared to its predecessors the new aircraft featured significantly re-designed nose section caused mainly by the installation of a DB 601 powerplant. The engine cowling was fitted very tightly around the new engine to reduce drag to a minimum. Four small blisters on the lower part of the cowl covered the front part of cylinder heads and compressed air duct. On the upper part of the cowl, slightly more bulbous than on the earlier Jumo-powered aircraft, there are two prominent bulges, just aft of the nose machine gun troughs, which house gun synchronizers. The booster air intake scoop was moved from above the engine to a location on the cowl’s port side. The most prominent feature of the fighter’s new model was a completely re-designed engine cooling system. The chin scoop, much smaller than on the Jumo variants, was now an oil cooler air intake, while two engine coolant radiators were placed underneath the wings.

 

Damaged Bf 109 E-4/B of I.(Schlacht)/LG 2, perhaps due to port landing gear failure. The port wingroot – fuselage joint appears ripped apart. Of interest is distinctive supercharger intake, typical of Messerschmitt late-production run at Fieseler plant.[Kageros's Archive]

 

Production aircraft
E-1/E-3. E-1 and E-3 were the first variants of the Bf 109 E series. Those early production models featured DB 601 A power plants and were configured as fighter aircraft. Some of the airframes were later modified to carry external stores (E-1/B and E-3/B variants). Early production aircraft were also gradually retrofitted with more powerful DB 601 N and Aa engines. The only difference between those two variants was the type of wing-mounted weapons. The Bf 109 E wing was designed to accommodate both an MG-FF cannon and an MG 17 machine gun in two adjacent wing bays. Looking at the wing’s leading edge of a Bf 109 E-3 and later models featuring the wing mounted cannon, one can clearly see plugged machine gun ports right next to the cannon muzzle.

 

Messerschmitt 109 E-7 flown in June 1941 by Oblt. Wolfgang Redlich, the Staffelkapitän of 1./JG 27. The aircraft features a non-standard camouflage, probably applied under field conditions or during its major overhaul. Dark fuselage sides were probably painted in RLM 02 and mottled with a darker paint, perhaps RLM 71. The aircraft carries typical theatre markings. The centreline rack for drop tank was most probably removed after the aircraft’s arrival in Libya. [Painted by Janusz Światłoń]

 

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