2 Messerschmitt Bf 109 – 34,852
(includes small postwar production)
Willi’s little knock-kneed warrior is absolutely the stuff of which legends are made. Its first flight was in mid-1935, just short of a year before the Spitfire’s, making it the earliest design to fight until the last day of WW II. And as with the Spit, it went through dozens of design refinements but was never totally redesigned. Its landing gear was never changed to tame its awful takeoff and landing characteristics. The automatic leading-edge slats remained to give it otherworldly abilities in the world of the semi-stalled turn—a combat plus. The long, tiny tail with a ton of weight on the tailwheel still reminded the pilot that he had best keep it in line when on the ground or he’d join the ranks of those German pilots who were considered American aces because they destroyed so many 109s on the ground.
Although the Bf 109 used very early sheetmetal technology, it was Tinkertoy-easy to build compared to its chief rival, the Spitfire. In fact, when the airplane is carefully perused, it’s seen as a study in German exactitude and precision applied to a hyper-basic design. Compared to the follow-on FW 190, it could even be considered crude. But it was easy to build, so by the time WW II was well on its way, the processes involved in building the mighty mite were so well understood and mastered that, if need be, they could have been built in back bedrooms and stables.
Above: The Bf 109 was produced from 1936 until the last day of the war. (Photo courtesy of EN-Archive) Below: The Reich fine-tuned its ability to build subcomponents in outlying factories and assemble them quickly in larger, more vulnerable facilities. (Photo courtesy of EN-Archive)