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First Swallow of summer

Gary Parsons reports from Berlin's ILA 2006, held over 16 - 21 May. Photography by the author unless stated otherwise

Willy Messerschmitt, the founder of the well-known aircraft company, would have been a proud man at Berlin's ILA 2006, where two of his creations were stars of the show. While the general public's adorations were directed at the Airbus A380, the aviation enthusiasts were eagerly awaiting the public debut of Messerschmitt Me262B-1A D-IMTT/N262MS, the second new 'Schwalbe' (Swallow) to fly and the first single-seater of the five aircraft being built.

Ich bin ein Berliner
Lighter moments
Serious stuff

Together with Bf109G-6 D-FMBB, the appearance of the Schwalbe over the skies of Berlin proved how far Germany has come in recent years in accepting its past and celebrating the technological achievements of the dark days of the Second World War. Both Messerschmitts were met with great excitement by the German public, it recognising the genius that lay behind the graceful design that was some years ahead of its time. Piloted by 69 year-old Horst Philipp, the Schwalbe's display was limited to straight and level passes, but from its sprightly performance one could easily imagine what a shock it must have been to Allied aircrew during those last few months of the war.

The project to bring the Me-262 back to the sky is the result of a decade of privately-administered effort. In the early 1990s, Steve Snyder, a pilot, engineer and businessman, owned an F-86 but also wanted a flyable Me262, and thought he could sell replicas to other warbird enthusiasts. To accomplish this he would need an original to disassemble and create blueprints, so he struck a deal with the US Navy to restore its Willow Grove example for free. In return, the Navy allowed Snyder to use the plane as a template to make five copies. In 1993 Snyder formed Classic Fighter Industries, Inc. and sub-contracted with Herb Tischler's Texas Airplane Factory at Forth Worth, Texas, to restore the Me262 and to build the five new aircraft.

Me262B-1A D-IMTT

But five years later the project ran into money problems, and a falling out ensued between Snyder and Tischler. Snyder turned to Bob Hammer, a Seattle-based Boeing executive and self-described 'airplane nut', to take over the project. In 1999 ten 18-wheeler transporters arrived at Paine Field in Everett, where the parts from the original and five new 262s were unloaded. When Snyder was killed in an F-86 crash later that year, the owners of the first two factory-new aircraft agreed to finance the project at a price tag of approximately $2 million apiece minus engines. So far three remain unsold. D-IMTT is the second aircraft, its new owners being the Messerschmitt Stiftung (Messerschmitt Foundation).

In 1969, Willy Messerschmitt established the foundation for the 'care and maintenance of German art, monuments and culture'. It concentrates on churches, chapels, locks and castles, for which public finance is not possible. An example is Lock Meseberg, acquired in 1995, the rehabilitation costs amounting to approximately 16 million Euros. Projects in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary are also being promoted. It's appropriate, if not somewhat bizarre, that some of Willy's former creations are now being built by others for the Foundation.

Authenticity in the new Me262 is paramount - the aeroplanes are being manufactured as a continuation of the basic Me262 design and they have even been assigned factory serial numbers drawn from the werknummern sequences used on the original 1945 production lines! The last Me262 produced by Messerschmitt was serial No. 501240, and the company permitted the use of the next five serial numbers for this project. 501241, the first two-seater and the first aircraft to fly, has authentic wartime markings - only the swastika has been left off, a symbol that still offends many.

But of course the authenticity can only go so far - safety is all-important, so modern flying systems and engines are used in the 'new' design. The original and primitive Jumo 004 engines would require a complete overhaul after about a dozen hours, and were notoriously unreliable. They have been replaced by modern GE J5s, which are used on many corporate jets and military trainers. Although the General Electric engines are lighter and have twice the thrust, the original engine housing's shape has been retained. Ancillary details are authentic, down to a pull cord that was used by ground crews on the original fighter to start a lawn-mower-size gasoline engine that powered up the main jet engine - of course, it's redundant on D-IMTT. When the access panels are opened, one will see a historically accurate duplicate of a Jumo 004B engine - concealed deep within the casting, the modern power plant will go all but completely unnoticed. Perhaps most significantly, the entire assembly (when mated with the J-85) will closely duplicate the weight of the original Jumo 004, keeping the original performance characteristics of the aircraft.

Original Me262s were not built to last, being made mostly of steel with some plywood parts - aluminium was in short supply in Germany in the spring of 1944, when the jet became operational, and it was a case of making do with basic raw materials. Of the 1,433 built, only a few hundred saw action and eight remain in museums around the world.

On 20 December 2002, the American Me262 Project (as the project is now known) successfully flight tested 'White 1', a Me262 B-1c two-place variant, powered by GE J-85 engines. The jet, flown by test pilot Wolfgang Czaia, made a 35-minute flight at Paine Field, Everett, Washington. "A pleasure to fly," Czaia wrote in his flight-test report - "Overall, a great first flight." Czaia flew F-104s for the modern-day Luftwaffe, but he was a friend of the late General Adolf Galland, one of the most famous of all German pilots from the Second World War. It was Galland who organised and commanded the legendary JG 44 unit that was equipped with the Me262 jets, and who persuaded Adolf Hitler to use the plane as a fighter, instead of as a bomber.

"I'm still friends with most of the pilots who have flown the airplane, and, of course, they are getting fewer and fewer," Czaia said. One of them, 85 year-old Guenther Rall, was Germany's third-most-decorated ace in World War II, with 275 victories. Rall flew the example that was shipped to Willow Grove after the war and restored by the Texas Airplane Factory, establishing the patterns for the modern-day examples.

D-IMTT, the second aircraft and first single-seater, took to the air for the first time in Germany on 24 April 2006 at Manching with Horst Phillip at the controls. The flight, totaling 14 minutes, consisted of two circuits of the field with one touch and go and one full stop. With faultless performances at Berlin just three weeks later, the quality of the new aircraft is evident. The only question remains, "Will we see it at Legends….?"

Bf109G-6 D-FMBB

Almost as special alongside the Schwalbe was Messerschmitt Stiftung's Bf109G-6 D-FMBB, back in the air after an extensive engine rebuild. Formerly a Spanish Air Force Hispano HA1112-M1L (s/n 156), the Gustav was built in 1958 and served as C.4K-87 until 1966, when it was acquired by French airplane enthusiast Jaques David. With the loss of the first Bf109G owned by Messerschmitt Boelkow Blohm GmbH (MBB), 156 was acquired and converted using parts from the original aircraft, which had also previously been a Buchon (195). To turn 156 into a Bf109G-6 a new tail unit had to be designed as the original tail counteracts the direction of rotation of the Rolls-Royce Merlin, opposite to that of the Daimler-Benz 605. The first flight took place in June 1986.

With the absorption of MBB into the EADS group, the machine was donated to Messerschmitt Stiftung, also located at Manching. After many years of inactivity, D-FMBB was restored to flying condition and starred at ILA 2002, where it suffered an engine failure, grounding it until the summer of 2004. One of the pilots to fly the Bf109G, Walter Squirrel, says "Flying a Boeing 747 is like driving a bus - but the Me109 is quality!" It was hoped to fly the gloriously growling Gustav with Rob Davies's P-51D 'Big Beautiful Doll' at ILA 2006, but Rob suffered an unfortunate incident just before landing at Schonefeld when the Mustang lost its canopy, fortunately without injury to the two-man crew or serious damage to the airframe. Maybe 2008 will see all warbirds fit and healthy for what would be a remarkable formation in the skies of Germany.

Trade show - what trade?

Big business was being done behind closed doors in the chalets of course, but one could be forgiven for thinking that they had stumbled on a regular Luftwaffe airshow, if there ever was such a thing. German military hardware formed the bulk of the flying display for the hardened enthusiast, interspersed with an offering from Airbus and many light or aerobatic acts. If you were an overseas military attaché looking to check out the latest hardware on offer to prop up your flagging fighter fleet, forget it. No Gripen, Rafale, Mirages, or even the evergreen F-16C that Lockheed continue to flog - the only fourth-generation jets on show were Typhoon, EADS using a Luftwaffe service example, and a welcome return for the MiG-29, this time in its thrust-vectoring OVT version. Even the cutthroat lead-in jet trainer market was ignored, with no representatives in the flying programme. It would seem that the days of displaying your latest fighter to the open market are now gone - specific campaigns are the norm today, customers targeted and aggressively chased away from the trade show arena. JSF was conspicuous by its absence, the recent problems with the programme obviously taking its toll. One would have thought that with European commitment to the programme wavering, Lockheed would have made a substantial effort to re-invigorate what many see as a dying project - unless American pressure is to keep it in-house, of course.

A remarkable display of agility was given by the MiG-29OVT, making its first appearance outside Russia. Many may remember the fantastic display given by the thrust-vectoring Flanker at Farnborough '96, and the MiG showed that ten years on the principle is still being pursued by the Russian manufacturers. The biggest difference to the Flanker, and that of the F-22A, is that the MiG's jet nozzles are directional in all axes and can be oriented plus or minus 15 degrees in the vertical and 8 degrees in the horizontal. The OVT may show the direction that the company is moving for its MiG-35 fighter as part of the Indian Air Force's multi-role fighter competition.

Typhoon was its usual competent self, the display flying being shared by EADS test pilots Heinz Spolgen and Chris Worning, who need no introduction. More interesting was the participation of two Luftwaffe Typhoons in the role demonstration, as they chased a poor old F-4F around the sky, treating the old dog like a pair of frisky young pups as they took turns to harry it about the sky. Tornados then provided the airfield attack under cover from a circling NATO E-3A, providing a frantic ten minutes or so of mayhem. This, together with the Army's tactical demonstration later in the day with no less than nine CH-53s and four Tigers were definite highlights, proving that German efficiency can be entertaining.

And what can we say about the A380? It's big, that's for sure. But, more worrying for Airbus is the fact that no orders have been placed in the last twelve months, the current order book standing at 159, someway short of the 600 - 700 needed to break even. While 004 made a headline-grabbing trip to Heathrow during the Berlin week, the talk was all about how Terminal 5 is A380-ready, although it will be for the sole use of British Airways, who haven't yet placed an order for the big white bird. Maybe customers are waiting for Singapore Airlines to prove it in service before committing, yet one can't help thinking that the logistical efforts needed to cater for up to 853 passengers at a time is causing many operators to think twice.

Another successful ILA, then - the number of exhibitors broke the 1,000 barrier for the first time, and the number of aircraft present was up to 340. But, like Farnborough, it seemed that ILA could quite happily have coped without any flying at all, all the news being driven by bizjet and airliner figures, marketing strategies and what may be possible if enough 'partners' get together (A400M, anyone?). Of course UAVs were much in evidence amongst the trade stands, EADS' new Barracuda being the surprise for many. But, as we here at Air-Scene UK think UAVs are the Least Interesting Thing In the World (LITIW), no more will be said on the subject.

We move on to Farnborough in July, and one hopes for a bit more input from the major manufacturers to display their latest hardware - it could be make or break for JSF, a golden opportunity for Gripen to snatch sales or for Typhoon to prove it's now combat-ready. But one wonders how much new business can be done so soon after ILA - again, we must promote the idea of a three-year rotation between Paris, Farnborough and Berlin, for all their future sakes.


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