Messerschmitt is a famous German aircraft manufacturer, known primarily for their World War II fighter aircraft, notably the Bf 109 and Me 262. The company survived in the post-war era, undergoing a number of mergers and evolving into Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm before being bought by DASA in 1989.
The Messerschmitt story begins with Professor Willy Messerschmitt joining the Bayerische Flugzeugwerke in 1927 and forming a design team. He promoted a concept he called "light weight construction" in which many typically separate load-bearing parts were merged into a single re-enforced firewall, thereby saving weight and improving performance. The first true test of the concept was in the Bf 108 Taifun sports-plane, which would soon be setting all sorts of records. Based on this performance the company was invited to submit a design for the Luftwaffe's 1935 fighter contest, winning it with the Bf 109 based on the same construction methods.
From this point on Messerschmitt became a favourite of the Nazi party, as much for his designs as his political abilities and the factory location in southern Germany away from the "clumping" of aviation firms on the northern coast. Messerschmitt AG was incorporated as a separate company on July 11 1938, with Willy Messerschmitt as chairman and managing director. The renaming of Bayerische Flugzeugwerke to Messerschmitt AG on that date, resulted in the all future types being designated Me instead of Bf. Existing types, such as 109 and 110, retained their earlier designation in official documents, although sometimes the newer designations was used as well.
During the war Messerschmitt became a major design supplier, their Bf 109 and Bf 110 forming the vast majority of fighter strength for the first half of the war. Several other designs were also ordered, incluing the enormous Me 321 Gigant transport glider, and its six-engined follow on, the Me 323. However for the second half of the war Messerschmitt turned almost entirely to jet-powered designs, producing the first operational jet fighter, the Me 262 Schwalbe. They also produced the DFS-designed Me 163 Komet, the first, and only, rocket-powered design to enter service.
Messerschmitt had its share of poor designs as well, the Me 210, designed as a follow-on to the 110, was a disaster that almost led to the forced dissolution of the company. The design problems were eventually addressed in the Me 410 Hornisse, but only small numbers were built before all attention turned to the 262.
After WW2 the company wasn't allowed to produce aircraft. One alternative the company came up with was the three wheeled motorcycle/bubble car KR200. According to an urban legend, it's made with old aeroplane parts. This wasn't true, but as it was designed by aircraft engineers, it's probably no coincidence it looks somewhat like an aeroplane. A well known appearance of this car is in Terry Gilliam's Brazil, to great effect.
In 1968 Messerschmitt AG merged with Bölkow, and one year later the aviation department of Blohm und Voss was added. The company then changed their name to Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm. In 1989 it was taken over by Benz Aerospace AG.
Messerschmitt aircraft included:
- Messerschmitt Bf 108 Taifun (Typhoon), trainer + transport
- Messerschmitt Bf 109, fighter (later versions designated as Me 109)
- Messerschmitt Bf 110, heavy fighter + night-fighter
- Messerschmitt Bf 162, bomber (prototype)
- Messerschmitt Bf 163 STOL reconnaissance aircraft (prototypes only)
- Messerschmitt Me 163 Komet (Comet), interceptor (rocket-engined)
- Messerschmitt Me 209, fighter + speed-record aircraft (prototype)
- Messerschmitt Me 209-II, fighter (prototype - completely different to Me 209)
- Messerschmitt Me 210, heavy fighter + reconnaissance
- Messerschmitt Me 261, long-range reconnaissance
- Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe (Swallow), fighter + attack (jet-engined)
- Messerschmitt Me 263, interceptor (rocket-engined)
- Messerschmitt Me 264 Amerika (America), long-range bomber (prototype)
- Messerschmitt Me 290, maritime patrol + bomber + reconnaissance
- Messerschmitt Me 309, fighter (prototype)
- Messerschmitt Me 321 Gigant (Giant), transport glider
- Messerschmitt Me 323 Gigant (Giant), transport
- Messerschmitt Me 409 heavy fighter, (Me 209 derivative) (project), 1944
- Messerschmitt Me 410 Hornisse (Hornet), heavy fighter + reconnaissance
- Messerschmitt Me 510 twin-engine fighter-bomber (Me 410 derivative) (project)
- Messerschmitt Me 609 heavy fighter + bomber (project)