A newly reconstructed Me-109G-14 takes its place alongside other historic aircraft at the National World War II Museum.
An engine cowling is not the most substantial part on which to base a restoration. But for Wolfgang Falch of Sandy Air Corporation, located in Zirl, Austria, about two miles from a former Messerschmitt factory, the original cowling of an Me-109G-14 was as good a start as any. He eventually built an entire plane around that one bit of formed sheet metal, which has now found its way to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Historic barely begins to describe the Me-109, one of WWII’s most numerous fighters and, although not the war’s best, flown by its highest-scoring aces by a yawning margin. Following its Spanish Civil War combat debut in 1938 as the Bf-109B, Willy Messerschmitt’s brainchild ultimately evolved into the fuel-injected Me-109K. Preceding the “K” in the last desperate days of the Third Reich, the Me-109G-14AS was powered by an 1,800-hp MW 50 methanol/waterinjected Daimler-Benz DB 605AS engine, and had taller vertical tail surfaces made of wood to allow Germany’s woodworking industry to contribute to its production. Serving alongside the Me-109G-10, the fastest of the “Gustavs,” and the late-arriving “Karl,” the Me-109G-14 fought overwhelming odds as wartime attrition reduced the Luftwaffe’s veteran cadre.
Falch purchased the engine cowling from a collector in 2006 and, because such an artifact from that particular 109 model was so rare, set out to reconstruct the plane around it. “The beginning was quite something,” he said. “We did not know if everything would work out properly, so we had the risk of losing a great deal of our investment.”
Falch and his associates searched old stocks of Messerschmitt parts, determined to use as many wartime components as possible. “We had already several years of experience in warbird recovery and spare parts supply for several warbird shops and museums worldwide when we obtained the G-14 cowling,” Falch explained. “We had amassed piles of 109 parts and drawings by that time. The rudder pedals came from a collector who had told us that he had gotten them at a former concentration camp site years ago.
“Whatever we did not have in the form of original parts,” he continued, “we fabricated to factory specs instead of using similar postwar aircraft parts.” Although one factory was unable to supply an aluminum spinner for the plane, it still had the stamping die, allowing Falch and associates to re-create one.
Some components, such as the cockpit and canopy, had to be rebuilt or, in the case of the engine mount, partially rebuilt, since the lower left mount was original and still in usable shape. This being a late-model 109, the propeller blades were constructed of wood, as was part of the tail. Ultimately the only parts that were not either original or reconstructed exactly like the original were the tires, since none of the 1944-vintage tires in the former plant could hold air anymore.
Although Sandy Air aims for authenticity, Falch said its restorations are strictly for static display, and not intended for flight. “We did not want to deal with aviation authorities over airworthiness certificates,” he explained, “and we also wanted to have the aircraft for sale at a reasonable price.”
Falch finished the completed Me-109G-14 in the markings of Jagdgeschwader 300, a fighter wing that played a unique role in defense of the Reich (Reichsverteidigung), including the Vienna area. Organized on June 26, 1943, under Major Hajo Herrmann, JG.300 was originally meant to test his “Wilde Sau” (wild sow) tactics, which involved at – tacking British bombers by night using radio and searchlights rather than on-board radar. As Allied onslaughts progressed, JG.300’s pilots often had to combine nocturnal missions with Sturm operations, making headon attacks against American formations of Boeing B-17s or Consolidated B-24s by day.
One of the unit’s 109s, “Red 3,” was flown by 2nd Lt. Willi Trabert of the 11th Staffel (squadron), or 11/JG.300. Trabert, who had scored six previous victories with JG.27, was originally assigned to 9/JG.300. While flying with that squadron he used Red 3 to shoot down a four-engine bomber south of Stuttgart about 11:35 p.m. on March 15, 1944, and at 10:45 p.m. on March 24 he destroyed another bomber near Berlin. Trabert was later placed in command of 11/JG.300, and several photographs of his Me-109G-14 exist, showing overpainted panels and a change of identification number on the fuselage side concurrent with that transfer. Like a handful of planes in JG.300, Red 3 also carried a personal marking on the cowling: Schlawiener (a pun that can be interpreted as “lazy Viennese” or “little rascal”).
Trabert was flying another Me-109G-14, Werke Nr. 163069 “Red 1,” when he was shot down on July 7, 1944. Although wounded, he managed to bail out and lived to age 80.
Asked why he chose to depict Trabert’s plane rather than a 109 flown by one of the Luftwaffe’s high-scoring Experten, Falch replied: “We had these pictures of the Schla – wiener available and wanted to re-create a Reichsverteidigung 109 anyway. We did not want to build an Experten 109, since we think that ours is more like a memorial for all of the young Luftwaffe pilots, who most of the time would not survive their third mission.”
While reconstruction of the 109 was underway, it came to the attention of National World War II Museum president and CEO Nick Mueller. According to Tom Czekanski, director of collections and exhibits, Mueller “had been the dean at the University of New Orleans,” and met Falch while taking a student group to Austria. Later the museum contracted Sandy Air to search for a Republic P-47D of the Ninth Air Force called Dottie Mae, which had crashed in a lake on May 8, 1945—the same day Germany officially surrendered to the Allies. The plane was indeed located, raised and eventually sold to another client in California. In the interim, Falch said, “The president of the museum was here while we were still rebuilding our 109, and went for it when we were finished.”
The New Orleans museum received the Messerchmitt in June 2008, and it was displayed on the floor of the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion alongside a Supermarine Spitfire Mark Vb for a week during the following September. Then both former opponents were hung from the museum ceiling, on permanent display alongside a Douglas C-47 and an SBD Dauntless.
Meanwhile, Falch reports that Sandy Air is engaged in restoring three more German fighters: “I have currently an Me-109G-6 Werke Nr. 441059 and an Me-109G-14 Werke Nr. 462787, as well as a [Focke Wulf] Fw-190D-9 Werke Nr. 400616 under restoration to static….We also have the fuselage with lots of additional parts of a Fi-156D-2 Werke Nr. 2299 for sale. This airframe can be used for a flying restoration.”
Originally published in the March 2009 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.