The Messerschmitt Bf 109 series went through innumerable major and minor design changes throughout its career. However, three were most significant—the E or “Emil,” the F or “Friedrich,” and the G or “Gustav.” The Emil was best known as the Battle of Britain 109, readily distinguished from earlier models by its more streamlined nose, yet retaining the small, blunt spinner. At least nine E model variants were produced, plus sub-variants. Some Jagdfliegers preferred Emils as long as they were available because of their 20mm cannon in the wings, unlike most successor 109s.
The F model saw major wing re-engineering along with the cooling system and other aerodynamics on the fuselage. Most notably in appearance in the F and later G models was abandonment of armament in the wings in favor of the front fuselage, synchronized machine guns above the engine atop the engine cowl, and either a 15 or 20mm Motorkanone behind the engine. The cannon fired between the cylinder banks through the propeller hub. However, some late models such as the G-6 received underwing gun pods or gondolas for the 20mm cannon to use against American heavy bombers. Though more lethal, the late Gustavs also were more vulnerable because the extra weight affected their performance.
Above: The 109 had one of the tightest cockpits of WW II. The pilot sat in a semi-reclining seat, looking forward through the Revi gunsight, while rearward visibility was seriously limited.
Many top Luftwaffe aces preferred the Friedrich to the Gustav because all the armament was concentrated in the nose. The 20mm firing through the prop hub and two 15mm guns in the fuselage were adequate in the hands of experts such as Gunther Rall, the world’s third- ranking fighter ace with 275 victories.
The Gustav designations went as high as the G-14 high-altitude fighter. Particular to the G-10 line was an attempt to convert older and less damaged airframes to become near equivalent to K-4 models that were still under development.
Building licensed 109s since 1937 was the Erla Machinenwerk GmbH of Leipzig, where a few G-10 models originated.
This 109G (serial number 610937) is thought to have been built in 1944 and went almost immediately to Bulgaria. The Bulgarian Air Force began flying 109s with receipt of Emils in 1940, but almost nothing is known of this Gustav’s wartime service.
In 1947, the 109 was acquired by the Yugoslav Air Force and later retired in the last half of 1950. It spent its remaining time in a trade school where students worked on it as an instruction platform.
Above: The distinctive narrow landing gear was a product of the decision to enable the 109 to be carried on a freight car with wings removed. Below: A 20mm cannon firing through the propeller spinner gave the 109G series its heavy punch, sufficient to destroy a single-engine airplane. Hartmann shot down more LaGG fighters than other types of Soviet aircraft.
Spending a few years in a semi-assembled state, the fighter exchanged hands a few times due to lack of funds for a complete rebuild.
Evergreen Aviation bought this 109 and another airframe in 1989, and in 1991 it began restoration over a five-year period.
The Evergreen Gustav is painted in German ace Erich Hartmann’s colors who flew over 800 sorties and is credited with 352 victories. He survived the war but spent 10 years in Soviet captivity before being released in 1955.
Below: A good look at the leading edge slats that afforded the Messerschmitt improved turn performance by reducing the stall speed.
By: Barrett Tillman and Heath Moffatt
Photos Courtesy of: heathmoffatphoto.com/evergreenaviationspacemuseum