The Bücker Bü 181 "Bestmann" is a two-seater, single-engine trainer aircraft used by the Luftwaffe during World War II.
The Bücker Bü 181 was named Bestmann after a German maritime term designating a member of the deck crew on coastal or fishing vessels. The prototype Bü 181 (D-ERBV) made its maiden flight in February 1939 with Chief Pilot Arthur Benitz at the controls. After thorough works and official flight testing by the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (RLM) the Bü 181 was nominated to be the standard primary trainer for the Luftwaffe. Series production of the Bü 181 commenced in 1940. The production types were designated B to C with only slight variations between each, and could be powered by the Hirth HM 500 A or B.[N 2]
The Bü 181 aircraft was a single-engine low-wing monoplane with fixed undercarriage, split flap, twin controls and two adjustable seats arranged side-by-side. The cabin section of the fuselage was of a tubular steel frame construction whereas the rear of the fuselage had a wooden shell. The wing assembly and tail unit were also of wooden shell construction. All the rudders, elevators and ailerons had wooden ribs and are covered in fabric. The flaps were metallic on the B types and wood on the C types. The Bü 181 Bestmann was powered by a 105 hp four-cylinder Hirth HM 500A or B piston engine.
The aircraft was designed for training flights, pleasure trips and aerobatics. Its strength corresponded to Stress Group 5 with a limited load (single occupancy) and Stress Group 4 fully laden
The Bücker Flugzeugbau factory at Rangsdorf built most of the Bü 181's, but because of demand was forced to license the design to the Fokker Company in the Netherlands, who subsequently built 373 of the type for the Luftwaffe, all of which were delivered by the end of 1943. Production of both the Bü 181B and the slightly modified Bü 181C was begun by Fokker in Amsterdam in 1942. It's total wartime production was 708 aircraft.
The Bü 181 was also built by the Zliner Flugzeugwerke AG plant at Zlin, in the Bohemia & Moravia Protectorate and after the German withdrawal the production continued after the war in the same Zlin works, now denominated as the C.6 and C.106 for the Czechoslovak Air Force and as the Zlín Z.281 and Z.381 in various versions for civil use. 783 aircraft were built.
Between 1943 and 1945, Hägglund & Söner AB in Sweden built 120 Bü 181's under license with the Swedish military designation Sk 25.
During the 1950s the Heliopolis Aircraft Works of Egypt acquired a Czechoslovakian licence to produce the Zlín Z-381 with a 105 hp Walter-Minor engine. It was produced for the Egyptian Air Force as the Heliopolis Gomhouria (meaning "Republic") and subsequent versions were supplied to other Arab air forces. At least 300 Gomhourias were built.
In all, 3,400 aircraft were built but only a handful survives today.
Although built primarily as a trainer for the Luftwaffe, the type also performed other duties such as courier & liaison. From March 1945 an order was issued to concentrate all the available Bü 181s to be converted either to the "tank busting" role carrying four Panzerfaust anti-tank grenade launchers from wing-mounted launchers (C-3 subtype) — not entirely unlike what U.S. Army Major Charles Carpenter had done in mid-1944 with his Piper L-4 artillery spotting monoplane — or to the night harassment role carrying three 50 kg bombs (B-3 subtype), most likely inspired by the Soviet female nocturnal Nochnye Vedmy units' campaigns from 1942 to V-E Day. These units saw very limited use in the final days of the war due to the war situation. However, some missions were carried out, achieving moderate success but at the price of severe losses. One restored Bestmann on the tank buster configuration is on display at the Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin.
- The Bü 181 B-3 (Schlachtflugzeug) was a Night harassment version made from converted B-1s and C-1s carrying improved instrumentation, Revi gunsights and three ETC 50 bomb racks. Bomb loads; either three SC50 or three SD50 or three SD70 or three AB70 droppable clusters. Max. Bomb load 210 kg.
The Bü 181 C-3 (Panzerjäger) were B-2 or C-2 subtypes modified for the antitank role, carrying four wing mounted Panzerfaust 100 single-use antitank grenade launchers in pairs, two on each wing.
- The few B-0 pre-series subtypes built carried still the old Hirth HM 504 engine.
- Mondey, David. The Hamlyn Concise Guide to Axis Aircraft of World War II. London: Chancellor Press Ltd, 1996. ISBN 1-85152-966-7. p.30.
- Christian Möller: Das letzte Aufgebot der deutschen Luftwaffe Helios Verlag 2010 ISBN 978-3-86933-030-3
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