Messerschmitt Me 309 - Nazi Germany, 1942
Detailing the development and operational history of the Messerschmitt Me 309 Fighter Prototype Aircraft.
Entry last updated on 9/16/2016; Authored by Staff Writer; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
The Messerschmitt Me 309 was intended as a direct successor to the famous Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighter series - it failed to unseat the classic design.
The Messerschmitt Me 309 was one of two fighters (joining the later Me 209-II) developed by the German concern during World War 2 as a successor to the storied Messerschmitt Bf 109. The Bf 109 was introduced to Luftwaffe forces in 1937 and formed the spearhead of all German air actions throughout the war into 1945, being produced in the tens of thousands. The aircraft - a modern single-engined, single-seat monoplane fighter - was then joined by the equally excellent Focke-Wulf Fw 190 of 1941. Together, these two fighters gave German air corps a distinct edge in almost any air battle until matched pound-for-pound by the likes of newer and decidedly evolved Allied offerings.
While the German Air Ministry was already satisfied with their Bf 109, Messerschmitt engineers forged ahead with an in-house venture to provide a much-improved form of their aircraft - the new design under the designation of "Me 309". The aircraft would exhibit well-streamlined fuselage containing the engine in a forward compartment, the cockpit at center and a tapered rear with conventional single-rudder arrangement sporting a pair of horizontal planes. Wings were low-mounted, straight with curved tips and set just ahead of amidships. The canopy housed a single pilot under a heavily-framed assembly with adequate views about the aircraft (consistent with the period). The canopy was hinged to open over the right side, entry via the left. No raised fuselage spin meant that a panel of window could added aft of the pilot with good views to the rear. The powerplant of choice became the Daimler-Benx DB 603G series 12-cylinder liquid-cooled inline piston engine of 1,726 horsepower driving a three-bladed propeller assembly. Armament of 2 x 15mm MG 151 cannon and 2 x 13mm MG 131 machine guns would be concentrated in the leading edge of the wing roots. A scoop featured under the fuselage gave the aircraft a distinct, "deep" appearance akin to the North American P-51 Mustang. To contend with high-altitude work, engineers designed the Me309 with a pressurized cockpit from the outset.
One of the more distinct features of the Me 309 aircraft was its use of a tricycle landing gear arrangement at a time when the accepted norm proved to be "tail-dragger" types (the Bell P-39 Airacobra and Lockheed P-38 Lightning were two notable wartime fighters to feature a tricycle arrangement). The undercarriage consisted of two single-wheeled landing gear legs and a single-wheeled nose leg. The main legs retracted inwards towards centerline under each wing while the nose leg utilized a more complicated 90-degree turning retraction scheme.
To keep costs in check, the Me 309 had her more specialized systems trialed on existing Messerschmitt airframes to prove viability. Eventually, these key systems were pressed into her all-new fuselage design and a prototype airframe was completed in early 1942. However, persistent mechanical issues with the complex nose landing gear leg delayed the Me 309's maiden flight until July 18th, 1942. Testing proved the aircraft sound in handling though its overall performance was only marginally better, and this under light testing loads, when compared to the standard frontline Bf 109G models of the time.
With lackluster government support on the program, the Me 309 moved slowly and ultimately languished under the stresses of wartime (resources and talent redirected to priority requirements). With the Bf 109 and Fw 190 series more than enough for the German Air Ministry to focus their fighter groups on, the Me 309 never proved a serious competitor as a replacement option. As such, the program resulted in just four completed prototypes before cancellation.
The Me 209-II proposal of 1943, borrowing more of the existing Bf 109 as a cost-effective gesture, joined the Me 309 by falling to the pages of history with only four prototypes of its own completed before cancellation. Once again, the prototype's performance proved no better than the aircraft it was intended to replace.