Messerschmitt Bf 163 [Recon]
During the autumn of 1935, the considerable potential of the Fieseler Fi 156 project for the tasks of short range reconnaissance and aerial observation had prompted the RLM to draw up a requirement for an army co-operation and observation aircraft with its performance parameters. The requirement stipulated the use of the Argus As 10 or the Hirth HM 508 engine and placed emphasis on short field performance, maximum possible all-round view for the two crew members, and a wide range of speed. It was intended that the resultant aircraft, which the Siebel Si 201 was also designed to compete for, would be evaluated in competition with the Fi 156.
The Bf 163 followed closely the formula established by the Fi 156 in being a high-wing braced monoplane with a metal structure, automatic leading edge wing slots, double slotted flaps, and an exceptionally tall undercarriage. The aircraft's most interesting feature was the provision for varying the incidence of the entire wing which swivelled on its mainspar, the bracing struts being attached to the fuselage by ball joints and changing their angle with movement of the wing. Construction of the sole prototype was entrusted to Weserflug Flugzeugbau GmbH, Bremen‑Lemwerder, though it retained the RLM prefix for BFW (Bf).
The plane normally carried a crew of two (three in an emergency). Its wings were foldable for rail transport. The structural design of the plane resembled that of the Bf 108 Taifun, in particular, as regards fuselage construction, engine mount and cowl, shape of horizontal tail surfaces etc.
Most information has been lost in time, but a weight breakdown table, originating from the Augsburg design office, proved extremely valuable in that it provided a clear picture of the equipment carried by the plane and of the weights of the various components, thus permitting a rough estimate of their dimensions. The list also proved of great value in a later phase of the reconstruction, when wing and landing gear positions were established by calculating the approximate centre of gravity location.
The next "find" was a couple of more precise dimensional figures (wing span and area). As the shape of the wing was known to have been rectangular, it was now a simple matter to provisionally establish the overall wing dimensions. With the length of the Argus As 10 C engine known, the overall length of the fuselage could be roughly determined.
Various people had mentioned the incidence control system, but nobody seemed to remember clearly just how it had worked and where the linkage had been attached to wing and fuselage.
Questioning the pilot who had been in charge of testing the Bf 163 led to the discovery of the plane's registration, which in turn, enabled H. J. Ebert to identify the a/c in the background of two snapshots of the old Messerschmitt‑Archives. Unfortunately, the two photos were rather foggy and showed only part of the plane. Yet they supplied a wealth of most welcome information, in particular, about the vertical position of the tailplane and the true shape of fin and rudder.
H. J. Ebert found an elementary view of a "Fieseler‑Storch‑like plane" in a 1944 issue of "Luftfahrt & Schule". It depicted what must have been an early design sketch of the Bf 163, clearly showing the latter's unique wing incidence control system, the position of the main wing strut, the peculiar semi‑cantilever landing gear, but a different fuselage contour.
A report titled "A comparison of the amount of riveting operations for various aircraft types" detected shortly afterwards in the old WFG archives contained a diminutive schematic drawing: the basic outline of the outer panel of the Bf 163 wing. Using the data contained in this report (list of numbers of rivets, wing‑, slot‑ and flap ribs etc.), it was now possible to re‑establish the structural design of the outer wing panels and ‑ using the available other wing data ‑ that of the entire wing.
First flown on 19 February 1938, the Bf 163 V1 proved to have similar performance characteristics to those of the Fi 156 but was more complex and expensive. Although some components for a second prototype were manufactured, the Bf 163 V2 was not completed and further work on the Bf 163 was terminated in favor of the Fieseler Fi 156.
The Ilmavoimat / Maavoimat evaluated the Bf 163 but considered that as the Germans had already ordered the Fi 156 Storch into production, while the Bf 163 was a good aircraft it was so similar in performance and capabilities to the Fi 156 that it probably wasn’t going anywhere. It remained under consideration but as an unlikely fallback option, given that Bayerische Flugzeugwerke (BFW) was unlikely to produce the aircraft only to meet a small Finnish order. License production was contemplated.
In a very rare decision, the RLM issued the airframe designation number 8-163 for the Me 163 Komet rocket-propelled interceptor, after having used the number for the Bf 163. The two aircraft are distinguished by the abbreviation: the earlier Bf 163, and the later Me 163. The new "Me" prefix was adopted for all new designs of Messerschmitt aircraft, after the company's official name of Bayerische Flugzeugwerke (BFW) was changed to Messerschmitt AG in July of 1938. With a Crew of 2, the Messerschmidt Bf 163 was powered by a single Argus As 10C 8-cylinder inverted-vee air cooled engine, 179 kW (240 hp) and had a maximum speed of 112mph. Performance characteristics overall were very similar to the Fi 156.