The high performance, record-setting Messerschmitt Bf 108 "Taifun" ("Typhoon") was born as a racing aircraft under the prototype designation of "M37". The design was attributed to engineer Willy Messerschmitt who would later go on to design and develop the excellent Bf 109, the German Luftwaffe's primary fighter of World War 2. Manufacture of the type was handled by Bayerische Flugzeugwerke. The Bf 108 was developed exclusively for the prewar 4th Challenge de Tourisme Internationale of 1934 as part of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale to take place in late-August into September over Poland.
The aircraft was of a conventional design with a well-streamlined fuselage wide enough to seat the crew side-by-side. The engine was fitted to a forward compartment (powering a two-bladed propeller assembly) ahead of the cockpit while the fuselage tapered off into a raised empennage which was capped by a shallow, rounded vertical tail fin. Horizontal planes were added to the base of the rudder and reinforced in earlier models with struts. The main wing assemblies were low-mounted, straight monoplanes with rounded tips. The undercarriage was retractable with the main landing gear legs recessing under each wing root. The tail wheel remained lowered at all times though earlier versions featured a simple skid in its place. The cockpit was heavily glazed which allowed for better-than-average views from within.
Beyond the initial 1934 competition M37 prototype, a handful of other airframes were produced under the formal "Bf 108A" designation and a majority of these were by a Hirth HM 8U engine and, perhaps more notably, incorporated an enlarged internal cabin for an additional two passengers. The few Bf 108A models were followed by the slightly modified though definitive "Bf 108B" models of 1935 which were preceded by a prototype fitting a Siemens Sh14A radial piston engine. Production-quality versions then switched to the Argus 10C or 10E of 240 and 266 horsepower, respectively. B-models arrived with revised tail units and new window designs and proved the definitive offering of the entire Bf 108 line. Maximum speed was 190 miles per hour with a range out to 620 miles. The maximum operating service ceiling was listed at 20,300 feet.
While it lost out in the 1934 Challenge over Poland, the Bf 108 was still the subject of several aerial endurance records of the mid-to-late 1930s. It was only natural that such a showing would lead to its strong use in the upcoming World War. The selection of engine and the refined airframe made for an efficiently powered mount promoting good range values and, thusly, the type was pressed into wartime service during World War 2 as a high-performance liaison observation platform and VIP transport. In these roles, the aircraft gave exceptional service thanks to its rugged, all-metal construction and capable handling at low speeds. Most all locally-produced Bf 108s operated under the German Luftwaffe banner during the war. As wartime requirements proved the need for more fighter types from primary German factories, production of the less important Bf 108s was relocated to now-occupied France which would in effect, gave the French strong experience in the construction of the aircraft, ultimately leading to local post-war production of evolved Bf 108 forms. The Italian Air Force (Regia Aeronautica) was another major Axis player making use of the unarmed Bf 108 during the war as was the Imperial Japanese Army Air Service. Bulgaria procured six of the type and utilized these primarily for training new generations of airmen. Several captured specimens along the East Front were reconstituted into the inventory of the Soviet Air Force.
Beyond the A- and B-models, the Bf 108C became an proposed (though ultimately abandoned) higher-performance model fitting a Hirth HM 512 series engine of 395 horsepower. The "Me 208" was another evolved war-time Bf 108 development given a modern fully-retractable tricycle undercarriage and larger overall dimensions. Only two prototypes completed in occupied France before its liberation though the model was placed into serial production in the post-war years as the Nord Noralpha by SNCAN (Societe Nationale de Constructions Aeronatiques du Nord) to the tune of 200 units (SNCAN became Nord Aviation in 1954). Similarly, the Nord Pingouin (series 1000, 1001 and 1002, the latter two with French Renault engines) were additional French-built Bf 108 post-war variants which reached total production of 286 aircraft.
In total, the Bf 108 existed in 885 examples and was utilized around the globe. Operators included Brazil, China, Croatia, Czechoslovakia (postwar as the "K-70"), Hungary, Manchukuo, Norway (postwar), Poland (postwar, captured specimens), Romania, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and Yugoslavia.
The Bf 108 garnered the nickname of "Taifun" (translating to "Typhoon") through female German pilot Elly Beinhorn-Rosemeyer (1907-2007) who bestowed the appropriate title to her own mount. Once publicized, the Taifun name eventually stuck and came to symbolize the entire series from then on. The Bf 108 was also influential in the design and development of the upcoming Bf 109 fighter series of 1937.
M37 - Competition Airframe Designation
Bf 108A Taifun ("Typhoon") - Initial civilian production models featuring seating for four personnel.
Bf 108B - Improved production form with revised empennage and windows.
Bf 108C - Proposed improved high-speed variant; never produced.
Me 208 - Improved Bf 108B with retractable tricycle undercarriage; enlarged airframe.
Nord Noralpha - Post-war French production of Me 208 by SNCAN.
Nord Pingouin ("Penguin") - Post-War models produced in France; production by SNCAN in the 1000, 1001 and 1002 model marks.
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