Newly restored Messerschmitt Bf109G flies again: Test pilot shares his experience…

 
Credit: Gavin Conroy and Classic Wings magazine.
 

War History Online proudly presents this Guest Piece from Rick Volker.

It was a most unexpected phone call that shook me out of my well organized aviation life. Mike Spalding, chief pilot at the Fighter Factory and friend, had warned me a year ago that the museums newly restored Bf109G would be done soon, and since I had recent Bf109E experience, I would be called to help check him out when it arrived. But todays’ call contained far more intrigue. The Fighter Factory was holding its annual air show in one week, the Bf109 had arrived late, and no one was trained yet to fly it in the show. Would I like to fly it?

Messerschmitt Bf109 D-FWME, Hurricane R4118, Spitfire P7350 and Spitfire PL344 in flight at the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford. Photo Credit.

I can think of no other aircraft in the history of the world that elicits a wider range of strong emotions in all who are exposed to its character. The Spitfire, you say? It is full of resourcefulness, love, passion, and grace. The “Spit” is indeed much more than the sum of its parts, like the Bf109. But without any challenging traits, it is as German Aces have declared, an impossibly simple kiddie toy. It has no way of biting you. When the novice Spitfire pilot has applied too much brake on the ground, the tail comes up so slowly that they have time to wind their watch and tear up their pilot license before flipping the switches off to save their prop and reputation. This limits the Spitfire’s ceiling of respect. It has the soul of a kind being, reluctant but capable in the hunt. It places no more demands on a pilot than an ice cream cone. The Bf109, in comparison, drains blood from all whom it touches. It makes no Messerschmitt Bf109G design compromise to coddle toddler pilots. It demands the very best performance from the very best pilots and charges the ultimate price for inattention. When the Bf109’s many idiosyncrasies were embraced and utilized by “Experten”, it forever became the Darth Vader of aviation. Those who have witnessed the aircraft’s soul experience the same eerie feeling prompted by lines in “The Terminator” motion picture: “ It can’t be reasoned with. It can’t be bargained with. It doesn’t feel pity of remorse or fear, and it absolutely will not stop. Ever. Until you are dead.” Such were my thoughts as I arrived at Jerry Yagen’s magnificent Fighter Factory in Virginia Beach, test cards in hand. After 3 flights to sort out the newly restored Bf109G4, it is my obligation to provide a window into the character of this weapon in a way that both aviators and non-aviators can relate to.

It makes no Messerschmitt Bf109G design compromise to coddle toddler pilots. It demands the very best performance from the very best pilots and charges the ultimate price for inattention. When the Bf109’s many idiosyncrasies were embraced and utilized by “Experten”, it forever became the Darth Vader of aviation. Those who have witnessed the aircraft’s soul experience the same eerie feeling prompted by lines in “The Terminator” motion picture: “ It can’t be reasoned with. It can’t be bargained with. It doesn’t feel pity of remorse or fear, and it absolutely will not stop. Ever. Until you are dead.” Such were my thoughts as I arrived at Jerry Yagen’s magnificent Fighter Factory in Virginia Beach, test cards in hand. After 3 flights to sort out the newly restored Bf109G4, it is my obligation to provide a window into the character of this weapon in a way that both aviators and non-aviators can relate to.

Assembly of Bf 109G-6s in a German aircraft factory. Photo Credit.

My brief history: Unlimited category aerobatic competition in Pitts and Sukhoi, followed by many years of air show flying, with over 20,000 lomcevaks and related maneuvers from every possible condition of flight. I have also been lucky enough to fly years of surface level aerobatic solos in a Spitfire Mark IX, an air show dogfight demo in a Messerschmitt Bf109E versus a Hurricane, a solo Hurricane demo, and finally, extreme air show flying in my own North American Harvard, replete with tail-slides, avalanches, rolling turns, hammerheads, etc. I am stimulated by finding ways to make aircraft fly at the edge of their envelope. With the tiny number of airworthy Bf109’s and an almost equally small number of pilots under the age of 90 who are qualified in them, I bring a perspective that is slightly different than that from the average test pilot. Let me give you my impressions.

The Bf109G “Black 1” has angular sharp lines, and a beauty created when form follows function. This beauty belies great underlying strength. Open any compartment or cowl and your impression is of precise fit and finish. How did engineers achieve such mechanical perfection? With each layer of outer protection removed, there is a denser, stronger, layer beneath. The wings are small. The tail is tiny. Yet the aircraft is built around the massive DB605 masterpiece of an engine as if its creators had vacuum formed every part, so as not to allow 1 mm of space to enlarge the final product. This aircraft is significantly smaller than other contemporary fighters. Think of an armored Extra 300 with 1500 hp., or a Mako shark crossed with a stiletto, painted in shades of grey and black. The dark soul of this aircraft would turn any other paint scheme black in one flight. In comparison, shark tooth paint schemes of other fighters are merely aircraft codpieces for the poseurs within.

Daimler-Benz DB 605 airplane engine.

Entering the cockpit is similar to putting on a bespoke suit. The fit and ergonomics are way ahead of the time. The seating area seems to have a perfect human size shape carved out of a steel ingot. At 1.8 m and 87 kg, this aircraft is a perfect fit. The pilot never has to brace to prevent body movement during maneuvers. Feet are raised. Knees are raised. Seat is reclined. The geometry of the 4-point seat belt attachment is perfect for emergency negative G flight. Get ready to laugh at G forces. Let all the Spitfire pilots burst their blood vessels straining in their upright seats. Did you think this anti-G posture was invented with the F16? As you visualize your flight and go through all of the usual procedures, close your eyes and imagine where something should be at each step. Reach out and touch. Open your eyes now. That is exactly where it is.

The E model has a busy workload with manual oil cooler doors, manual radiator doors, manual propeller pitch and a stiff T handle for landing gear retraction that requires the same wrist movement as pulling a tooth. The G model has drastically reduced workload and effort. There are little push buttons for selecting landing gear, automatic oil cooler doors, automatic radiator flaps, and finally, automatic propeller pitch control that works. There is no need for a mixture control. The stick design is of perfect angle and length. There is no friction of any kind in the flight controls. The rudder pedals copy and contain the exact shape of the foot, so that in negative G flight, you are still in the game.

Bf 109 Gustav cockpit.

The canopy is small and full of vision blocking metal between panes but the pilot’s head is so close to the glass that he can see down and around much better than expected. You will need to be able to do 20 kg dumbbell presses to move the canopy up and down. Of course, this is expected of pilots who also possess the strength of character needed to satisfy this aircraft.