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A new biography of Willy Messerschmitt offers a fascinating look at the man and his machines.

By Walter J. Boyne

One might think that everything that could be said about Messerschmitt aircraft has already been said. Nothing could be further from the truth. In Willy Messerschmitt: Pioneer of Aviation Design (Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., Atglen, Pa., $49.95), authors Hans J. Ebert, Johann B. Kaiser and Klaus Peters have created a monumental work, filled with new and fascinating material on Messerschmitt the man and on his famous series of aircraft. Originally written in German, the book was translated by Ray J. Theriault and Don Cox. This huge 435-page book, with its hundreds of photos, drawings and graphs, is a superb value and a must-have for every aviation library.

The biographical information on Willy Messerschmitt is quite revealing, and the authors keep him in the forefront as they detail the creation of each of his many designs. His earliest glider designs, done in cooperation with Friedrich Harth, are of particular interest. Although advanced in concept, they were doomed to failure by their focus on “wing control.”

Once Messerschmitt began operating on his own, he adhered to a design philosophy of minimum weight and drag along with simple, inexpensive construction. The formula served him well through a series of sport and business aircraft despite the vicissitudes of the German aviation business climate. Messerschmitt became a fairly astute businessman, surviving bankruptcies, forced mergers and other government-inflicted indignities.

It was a happy coincidence for Messerschmitt that the evolution of his designs reached a peak with the Bf-108 Taifun just as the Nazis were beginning the swift expansion of the German aviation industry. The Taifun won prizes all over Europe and set the stage for Messerschmitt’s most famous design, the Bf-109 fighter.

The authors enhance their presentation with much anecdotal detail, such as the story of how Elly Beinhorn, Hanna Reitsch’s great rival, gave the Bf-108 its Taifun name. Similar accounts illuminate each aircraft’s design, development and production. The authors are careful to point out Messerschmitt’s intense personal involvement in each of the designs, and they include such gems as his original design sketches for the infamous but record-setting Me-209 aircraft. The story of the 209 is made especially vivid by project manager Hubert Bauer’s meticulously detailed and moving first-person account of the April 26, 1939, flight, when Fritz Wendel flew it at 755 kilometers per hour.

The Messerschmitt enthusiast will find new material here in the discussion of all the favorite designs, including the Bf-110 and Me-262. Perhaps even more interesting is the candid appraisal of lesser-known designs, including some absolute failures such as the Me-210 series. Many advanced projects are also analyzed, often with the addition of Messerschmitt’s handwritten and drawn instructions.

Willy Messerschmitt’s postwar career is fully detailed, with the same careful analysis applied to his bubble cars as to his vertical-takeoff-and-landing aircraft. Messerschmitt was a genius, and aviation owes him much. It’s just too bad he didn’t immigrate and join Edgar Schmued at North American before the war!

It must be noted that this book would probably not have been published with all its text and photos by any firm but Schiffer Publishing. The book is well designed, the paper is excellent and the photos are well reproduced. It was obviously expensive to manufacture, and the $49.95 price seems reasonable given the content.