A Spanish 109? What is a Buchon; the development of the Hispano HA-1112. Plus, the types extensive on-camera roles, airworthy examples and a Czech cousin, the Avia S-199.
Words Phil Glover
Having utilised early variants of the Messerschmitt 109 in the Spanish Civil War, and then acquired examples from Germany, in 1942 the Spanish Government obtained a license to build the Messerschmitt Bf 109G. However, with Germany suffering from its own supply issues, the various components and specialist machinery needed to set up a production line never arrived, and it is believed just 25 tailless fuselages were delivered. It is a common misconception that Spain received complete aircraft minus the engines, this is not the case as it was always intended to have the aircraft built under license in Spain. It is also likely they were never intended to have the Daimler Benz engine and the Spanish always planned to use an alternative powerplant - something that would cause the types lengthy development over the next 10 years.
The first variant flew in March 1945 and was powered by a Hispano-Suiza 12Z-89 engine, it was known as a Hispano HA-1109-J. Unfortunately, the aircraft underperformed and only 6 entered service whilst other airframes went straight into storage. In 1951 this evolved into the HA-1112-K1L (originally designated HA-1109-K1L) fitted with a more powerful Hispano-Suiza 12Z-17 engine and given the military designation C.4J; 40 were built. The final variant, what would become the Buchon, came to be because after much protracted negotiations and the lifting of an arms embargo, the Spanish were able to purchase surplus Rolls Royce Merlin 500 engines, and 4 bladed Rotol propellers, from the British. These engines would be used by both CASA, who had been license building Heinkel He111s as CASA 2.111s, and Hispano for the HA-1112, although the propellers were solely for the HA-1112s. This of course ironically combined a wartime British engine with an aircraft design from Germany.
Taking flight in 1954, a HA-1109 was refitted with a Merlin and four blade propeller and the performance issues were solved with the aircraft finally reaching its potential. Thus, the HA-1112-M1L "Buchon" was born, a purely Spanish built aircraft, and it entered service in 1957 with the military designation C.4K. Approximately 127 were built, most from scratch but others from converting existing Hispano-Suiza equipped airframes. "Buchon" was never an official name used by Hispano or adopted by the Spanish Air Force, it was used as a nickname derived from the distinctive chin radiator as it reminded some of a large breasted pigeon known as a Buchon! Today, it has been widely adopted and is commonly used in much the same way that the Boeing 747 was never officially called a "Jumbo Jet", but it is now common vernacular . Of note, the HA-1112-K1L with its three blade propeller gained the nickname "Tripala" - meaning three blade.
The original weaponry of the Messerschmitt 109G consisted of two machine guns on top of the cowling, and a nose mounted canon firing through the propeller spinner. The first HA-11109J variants equipped with the Hispano-Suiza 12Z-89 engine allowed for a 20mm cannon to fire through the spinner, but with the engine changes on the HA1112-K1L and M1L this was no longer possible. Both the HA-1112-K1L and M1L were equipped with 2 x wing mounted 20mm Hispano Suiza cannons and hard points for 8 x 80mm Oerlikon rockets. The Buchon remained in service with the Spanish Air Force until the mid 60s and saw operational use in the Spanish colonial territories where they were used in a ground support role. The Buchons flew the significant distance from Spain to the African territories with the aid of newly designed drop tanks. The fleet was based in far from ideal conditions and faced no aerial opposition, thus the Buchon was never engaged as a fighter.
The Buchons biggest claim to fame is its use in the 1969 film "Battle of Britain" where the retired Spanish fleet was purchased by Spitfire Productions Ltd and used to portray the Luftwaffe 109s in the film. 28 were obtained which resulted in 18 airworthy, 6 taxiing and 4 for studio shots / static use. However, it should be noted that "Battle of Britain" was not the types first use representing the 109 in film, this goes to the HA-1112-K1Ls that were used in the 1957 German film "Der Stern von Afrika".
Many Buchons survive today because of the Battle of Britain film, this saved them from mass scrapping and saw them enter the warbird and preservation scene. 13 Buchons airframes and a large quantity of spares were used as payment to American pilot Wilson "Connie" Edwards who flew in the "Battle of Britain" film. He had these aircraft shipped to Texas where the majority would remain in storage, untouched for 46 years. Purchased by Boshung Global for onward sale, since 2017 we have enjoyed a resurgence of the type with 4 having returned to the air in the UK by Air Leasing.
Given how these Buchons were stored for so many years and have not been rebuilt from recovered wrecks, they are some of the most original warbirds flying today. However, since the 80s several Buchons have been converted to 109G spec, essentially switching the engine to a Daimler Benz, along with other modifications. Whilst it is wonderful to see and hear a 109G, I hope we continue to have a healthy number of Buchons remain in Merlin configuration.
HA-1112-K1L fitted with a Hispano-Suiza 12Z-17 engine and three blade propeller. Note the canons and underwing rockets. Much like the HA-1112-M1L was unofficially named "Buchon", these were unofficially named "Tripalas".
Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons
HA-1112-M1L fitted with a Rolls Royce Merlin engine and four blade propeller. Note the original spinner, armament and full length wing tips - these were all modified for the types use in the Battle of Britain film, and today are quite rare to see.
Image Credit: Wikipedia Commons
With a lack of airworthy and available German wartime aircraft, even today, production companies have often turned to the Buchon when needing a Messerschmitt 109. The following list details film credits from 1957 - 2022. All credits are portraying the 109 unless noted, and aside from "Der Stern von Afrika" which utilised the earlier HA-1112-K1L model, all credits are for HA-1112-M1L Buchons.
Words and image: Phil Glover
Buchon G-AWHK / "Yellow 10" in the markings of a 1940 era 109E coded, "Black 2" for use in the film "Dunkirk".
Titles noted by year of release
Der Stern von Afrika -1957
Battle of Britain -1969 (including 1 background shot as Hurricanes)
Eagles over London - 1969 (portraying Spitfires)
Patton - 1970 (portraying P-51Bs, scenes deleted)
The Hiddenburg - 1975
Piece of Cake - 1988 ( TV series)
Memphis Belle - 1990
A Perfect Hero - 1991 (TV series)
Diamond Swords / Les épées de diamants - 1993
Tuskegee Airmen -1995 (TV movie)
Over Here - 1996 (TV series) *
Writing to Reach You, Travis - 1998 (Music video)
Pearl Harbor - 2001
Valkyrie - 2008 **
- Above and Beyond - 2014 (portraying Avia S-199, feature length documentary)
Dunkirk - 2017
SAS Rogue Heroes - 2022 (TV series)
*A Buchon converted to 109G spec and Messerschmitt Bf 109 G-2 "Black 6" were used, making this the only time 2 Daimler Benz 109s have been used in a modern production.
**A Buchon and a Buchon converted to 109G spec were used
As of March 2023, there are 6 airworthy Buchons: 3 in the UK, 2 in Germany and 1 in the USA - although the US owned example is yet to make a public experience. Of these, 1 in Germany was converted to two-seat 109 G-12 specification and re-engined with a Daimler Benz, however it soon reverted back to a Merlin engine making it somewhat of an anomaly as a Merlin equipped 109G-12 (it is not available for warbird experiences). In 2019 5 of these airworthy Buchons were based in the UK and flew together at Flying Legends, a record for the type to fly together since the making of the Battle of Britain film.
Conversions: Since the 80s several Hispano Buchons have been converted into airworthy Messerschmitt Bf 109G spec with a Daimler Benz engine and other modifications. Although these look like 109Gs, they are modified Buchon airframes. There are currently 3 or 4 flying in this configuration, plus 1 with an Allison engine fitted within a 109G nose profile. (2 in Germany and 2 in the USA).
Messerschmitts: Of note, there are potentially 3 original Messerschmitt Bf 109s flying (2 109Gs and 1 109E, all rebuilt from recovered wrecks). 2 in Germany and 1 in the USA. Plus, there are a further 2 109Es rebuilt from wrecks that are technically airworthy but not currently flown.
Another re-engined 109 derivative flew in the post war years in Czechoslovakia, but unlike the Buchon, the Avia S-199 was not built under license.
Words and images: Phil Glover
The Avia S-199 is essentially a Czechoslovakian made Messerschmitt 109 powered by a Junkers Jumo 211 engine in place of the Daimler Benz DB 605.
Unlike the Hispano variants which were built under license in Spain for the Spanish Air Force, Avia was building 109s for Germany during the war. After the war Avia kept all it's tooling and jigs and continued building 109G-6s for the Czechoslovak Air Force and called them the Avia S-99. However, they would soon run out of Daimler Benz engines so a replacement was needed and the most readily available units were surplus Junkers Jumo 211 F engines and propellers that had been intended for Heinkel He 111 bombers. This new combination added a huge amount of torque to an aircraft already known for challenging handling.
As with the Buchons, the change of engine also meant the the loss of the nose mounted cannon; the Daimler Benz DB 605 having allowed for a cannon to fire through the centre of the propeller spinner. Using left over German underwing Rüstsatz VI modification kits, a MG 151 cannon was fitted beneath each wing. A two-seat trainer variant was also built, known as the CS-199, but Avia changed the two-seat canopy of original 109G-12 which they had previously produced., to a larger and safer two-piece hood.
The S-199 was Czechoslovakia's main fighter from 1948 until the mid 50's and examples purchased by Israel saw operational combat as fighters.
Although not as well known as the Buchon, the S-199 is certainly a fascinating type. 450 single seat and 82 two-seat aircraft were built. The S-199 and CS-199 pictured here are preserved at the Czech Aviation Museum, another S-199 is preserved in Israel.
Spainish image credits:
-Museo de Aeronáutica y Astronáutica, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
-Hugh Llewelyn, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons
-Diego Dabrio, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons