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The Bücker Bü 181 Bestmann

Overview

The Bü 181 prototype made its first flight in February 1939. Production began in 1940. It was the Luftwaffe’s primary trainer.[i] It had side by side seating which was a relatively new innovation for trainers. Büchner produced thousands of Bestmann’s. Fokker also produced 708 under license. Czechoslovakia also produced Bü 181s during and after World War II. Egypt’s Heliopolis Aircraft Works also produced Bü 181’s, named Gomhouria 181 Mk 6, after the war. Bü 181’s remained in active service into the 21st century.[ii]

[i] Bucker BU-181 Bestmann Airplane Factory Rangsdorf Germany 74532.

[ii] Vintage Aircraft Recognition Guide by Tony Holmes, © HarperCollins Publishing 2005.

In Service

The Luftwaffe used the aircraft as a primary trainer. When the Luftwaffe obtained enough Bestmann’s for their training needs it ordered more for communication and liaison duties. The Luftwaffe purchased others for glider towing.[i] Germany delivered 10 Bü 181s to Hungary in 1942. Hungary received 49 Bestmann’s during the war.[ii]

On June 29, 1942 Arthur Bentz flew a Bestmann D-EXwB to Sweden. AB Hagglund & Sonar built125 Bü 181s under license between 1944 and 1946.[iii] In 1944 Germany sent a Bestmann to Switzerland for evaluation. The Swiss Air Force evaluated it from October 1944 to November 1945.[iv] Near the end of the war some German pilots flew to Sweden and Switzerland. Four Bü 181s flew to Sweden. Seven Bestmanns flew to Switzerland. One Bestmann landed in Switzerland because of a navigation error. The Swiss returned that Bü 181s to Germany.[v]

In March 1945 Germany equipped some Bü 181s with Panzerfaust anti-tank rifles and 50-kilogram bombs. Their targets were; vehicles, enemy and abandoned German, and abandoned Luftwaffe aircraft.[vi] The pilots on these missions were skilled but the Bestmann was slow and fragile. The Bü 181s that flew such missions suffered heavy losses.[vii]

Probably the most noteworthy incident involving a Bestmann occurred on April 8, 1945. Test pilot and holder of the Iron Cross Second Class and the Gold Front Flying Clasp for Bombers with Diamonds, Melitta Schenk Gräfin von Stauffenberg, was flying to visit her husband, Alexander, a concentration camp inmate at Regensburg[viii]. A P-51 Mustang shot her down. She crash landed her plane. She was mortally wounded and died two hours later.[ix] Her death serves as a cautionary tale for those in accidents. Her wounds didn’t appear life-threatening. Her autopsy revealed she had a skull base fracture.[x] This was the first, and probably only, case of an Allied pilot shooting down an Axis aircraft piloted by a woman.

The HMS Reaper brought two Bü 181s to the United States, along with many other former Luftwaffe aircraft, to the United States. The U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) designated them FE-4611 and FE-4612.[xi] The USAAF evaluated FE-4611 at Freeman Field, Ohio in 1946. FE-4611 became part of the National Air & Space Museum’s collection.

A Bestmann appears in flight in the movie “The Great Escape”. In the scene Hendley (James Garner) pilots the plane with Blythe (Donald Pleasence) as the passenger.[xii] Assistant Robert E. Reylea flew the aircraft for the flying scenes. This included an intentional crash landing. Reylea injured himself in the crash.[xiii]

Bü 181 production continued after the war. The production run was about 3,000 aircraft. It was used by 16 air forces. The Libyan Air Force used the Gomhouria 181 Mk6 until 2011. The Libyan Air Force was the last military operator. On April 10, 2011 a Bestmann owned by Quax Flieger GmbH crashed after takeoff. The pilot suffered serious injuries but survived.[xiv] The Bü 181B-1 was damaged beyond repair.[xv]

[i] Vintage Aircraft Recognition Guide by Tony Holmes, © HarperCollins Publishing 2005.

[ii] Bucker History, Bucker History (sbeaver.com), last accessed 7/25/2021.

[iii] Bucker History, Bucker History (sbeaver.com), last accessed 7/25/2021.

[iv] Bucker History, Bucker History (sbeaver.com), last accessed 7/25/2021.

[v] Bucker History, Bucker History (sbeaver.com), last accessed 7/25/2021.

[vi] Bucker History, Bucker History (sbeaver.com), last accessed 7/25/2021.

[vii] History of War.org, Bücker Bü 181 Bestmann (historyofwar.org), last accessed 8/7/2021.

[viii] Alexander von Stauffenberg was Oberst Claus von Stauffenberg’s brother. Obert von Stauffenberg planted the bomb in the July 20 Hitler Assassination plot. His actions were lionized in the 2006 movie “Valkyrie”. Units of the U.S. 5th Army liberated Alexander and the other prisoners at Dachau on May 5, 1945.

[ix] Female Luftwaffe Pilots in Combat 1945, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8OsaIqxxwk, Mark Felton Productions, last accessed 7/25/2021.

[x] Mulley, Clare. The Women who flew for Hitler. Pan Macmillan

[xi] Indianamilitary.org, HMS Reaper, HMS REAPER (indianamilitary.org), last accessed 8/8/2021.

[xii] The Great Escape, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zbU7f1rv3dY, last accessed 8/8/2021.

[xiii] International Movie Database, The Great Escape (1963) - Trivia - IMDb, last accessed 8/8/2021.

[xiv] Cause of crash of the small aircraft at Dortmund Airport unclear, by Marelike Weberink, Frank Fligge, Konstantin Tassidis, Andreas Winkelsträter, April 10, 2011, Cause of crash of the small aircraft at Dortmund Airport unexplained - derwesten.de, last accessed 8/8/2011.

[xv] Aviation-Safety.net, Incident Bücker Bü-181B-1 Bestmann D-EQXE, 10 Apr 2011 (aviation-safety.net), last accessed 8/8/2011.

Bücker Bü 181 Bestmann Stats

Source: Vintage Aircraft Recognition Guide by Tony Holmes, (c) HarperCollins Publishers 2005.

Accommodation

2 (2 pilots or pilot and passenger)

Weight Empty

1,058 lbs (480 Kgs)

Weight Maximum Take Off

1,653 lbs (750 Kgs)

Max Speed

134 mph (215 kmh))

Range

497 miles (800 km)

Engine Output

105 hp (78 kW)

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Robert Sacchi

Comments

Robert Sacchi (author) on August 09, 2021:

Thank you for reading and commenting. Oberst is a German military rank, equivalent to a U.S. colonel. The incident had an interesting connection. The Germans executed Claus von Stauffenberg’s other brother. His sister was also at imprisoned. They were high value prisoners. Because of Melitta's position she was able to visit them. "Gräfin" was a German title for countess. That through marriage to Alexander.

FlourishAnyway from USA on August 09, 2021:

This was an interesting article, and I like that you included the kinship connections (Obert).

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on August 08, 2021:

Robert, you're welcome.

Robert Sacchi (author) on August 08, 2021:

Thank you for reading and commenting.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on August 08, 2021:

Interesting read. Thank you.

Robert Sacchi (author) on August 08, 2021:

Thank you for reading and commenting. Running afoul of a P-51 in 1945 ruined many an Axis pilot's day.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on August 08, 2021:

This is an interesting article about the Bestmann, Robert. Melitta Schenk Gräfin von Stauffenberg did not do well, but it seems many had successful flights. Thank you for sharing this information.

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