Simanaitis Says

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FLYING THE ALPS IN A SMALL PLANE—AND I MEAN SMALL PART 2

YESTERDAY, WE MARVELED at aviation pioneers challenging the mighty Alps. Today in Part 2, a young Willy Messerschmitt challenges the Versailles Treaty with the M-17, a powered aircraft of his own. Later, the M-17 challenges the Alps.

Willy’s First Aircraft. Wikipedia notes, “As a young man, Messerschmitt befriended German sailplane designer Friedrich Harth. Harth joined the German army in 1914 and while he was away at war, Messerschmitt continued work on one of Harth’s designs, the S-5 glider.”

Wilhelm “Willy” Messerschmitt, 1898–1978, German aircraft designer and manufacturer. As part of his post-World War II denazification, Messerschmitt served two years in prison. Portrait by Günter Rittner, 1978.

Willy’s first independent design was the 1921 S-9 glider. In 1923, he was graduated from the Technical University of Munich. S-14, S-15, and S-16 gliders followed (the S for Segelflugzeug, sailplane) and the next step was the M-17 (M for Motorflugzeug, motor plane). 

Technicalities. The M-17 inherited its high-aspect-ratio  wing (large span, narrow chord) from glider practice, hitherto not tried in a powered aircraft. 

Note the M-17 wing’s high aspect ratio. This and other images of my GMax M-17.

The M-17’s 38.1-ft span compares with a modern Cessna 172’s 36.1-ft., though the Messerschmitt is otherwise a much smaller aircraft (its length, 19.2 ft. versus the Cessna’s 27.2 ft). 

Above, a Cherub engine; below, my rendering.

The M-17 was powered by a Bristol Cherub II air-cooled horizontally-opposed two-cylinder engine. It produced 29 hp and gave the 410-lb. two-seater a top speed of 87 mph and a cruising speed of 78 mph. The M-17’s 7.4-gallon fuel tank offered an estimated range of 370 miles.

The two M-17 occupants sat tandem, with the pilot in the aft position. Neither had any direct forward view; this, a tradeoff of the design’s aerodynamic efficiency. Indeed, during an early test flight, Willy clipped unseen telephone wires.

The M-17 was Messerschmitt’s first commercial product: Two German flying schools bought a total of four M-17s.

The M-17’s Alpine Adventure. In September 1926, Professor Werner von Langsdorff and Eberhard von Conta flew M-17 D-779 to Rome from Germany. Sources differ as to the starting point, Bamberg or Munich. Wikipedia suggests it was Bamberg (where Messerschmitt designed the M-17 and some 135 miles north of Munich). 

Image from Google Maps.

Bamberg to Rome is some 700 miles. The adventurers took more than 14 hours for the trip, requiring a fuel stop every three hours because of the 7.4-gallon tank size. During the trip, the M-17—and its intrepid flyers—reached altitudes approaching 15,000 ft.

I suspect their Alpine viewing wasn’t nearly as entertaining as mine. And virtual flights in my Messerschmitt M-17 are just like home. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021 

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