From Civil War to Civil Registers
Based on the G-2 variant of Messerschmitt’s legendary Bf-109 fighter, Hispano Aviación’s HA-1112 is considered by many to be the ultimate development of the Bf-109 family when post-war variants are taken into account.
While the G-2 variant would form the core of all Spanish post-war Bf-109 development, the nation’s relationship with the Messerschmitt fighter family reaches back to the Spanish Civil War which raged from 1936 to 1939.
The Condor Legion, a group of volunteers from the German military who assissted the Nationalist side of the conflict, used the Spanish Civil War as a proving ground for much of the technology and tactics they would use in the early stages of the Second World War. This included early versions of the Bf-109 aircraft family.
1939 brought the Spanish Civil War to an end with a Nationalist victory and a considerable amount of German military hardware left behind to equip the Spanish military. Though Spain was officially a non-combatant in the Second World War, close ties were kept to Germany during the period and a deal was struck in 1942 for 200 Bf-109G-2 aircraft to be built under license in Spain for the Germans. However, the deal proved unviable when Germany was unable to meet its end of the deal by providing the promised components for the Spanish to build the aircraft with.
In the end, 25 dismantled Bf-109 airframes were sent to Spain in 1943 to be used for pattern making. Ultimately, Germany could not even provide technical drawings or construction jigs and the Spanish took it upon themselves to develop their unique variations on the aircraft in 1944.
What began in 1944 as Spain’s attempt to salvage a serviceable aircraft for themselves from a failed arrangement with Germany, reached an apex in 1954 with the first flight of the HA-1112. The aircraft would serve the Spanish air force until the mid 1960s and become a popular substitute in films and airshows for its Bf-109 progenitor.
Refining the Formula
Based in Seville, Hispano Aviación took responsibility for development of the aircraft.
Using the 25 airframes Germany had provided in 1943 as testing aircraft and prototypes; the company settled on the Hispano-Suiza 12Z engine for the aircraft and propellers from the Swiss firm, Escher Wyss. The 25 aircraft were designated HA-1109-J1L and were never used operationally by the military. The first of these aircraft flew in 1945.
The next step took place in 1951 with the debut of the HA-1109-K1L. The new variant incorporated an improved version of the Hispano-Suiza 12Z and a de Havilland designed three blade propeller. It was armed with a pair of 20mm cannons and could carry unguided rockets on underwing racks. A total of 65 of this variant were built, including 25 HA-1109-J1L aircraft which were converted to K1L standard. This variant was later redesignated HA-1112-K1L. These aircraft were used strictly as operational trainers by the Spanish air force.
Improving relations between Spain and Great Britain in the early 1950s resulted in Spain being able to Acquire a Rolls-Royce Merlin engine and four blade Rotol propeller to create the HA-1109-M1L which served as the prototype for the ultimate HA-1112-M1L version.
The HA-1112-M1L was more than just a new engine and propeller on the existing airframe. A large number of refinements had been made, including a large wing fence on the top of each wing to smooth airflow. While the standard armament remained unchanged, the performance was much improved over earlier variants.
The HA-1112-M1L is the variant specifically tied to the aircraft’s popular nickname of Buchón, a Spanish term for a pigeon. The nickname comes from the variant’s notably large chin area, which is reminiscent of an inflatable chest pouch that the males of some varieties of domestic pigeons possess
A total of two aircraft were built as two seat trainers. The first was powered by the Hispano-Suiza 12Z and designated HA-1110-K1L. The second two seater was built with a Merlin engine and designated HA-1112-M4L. The HA-1110-K1L was eventually converted to an HA-1112-M4L.
The Buchón in Battle
The latter part of the 20th Century saw a general trend to decolonization across Africa and Spanish holdings on that continent were directly affected.
Shortly after Morroco gained independence in 1956, it laid claims to the territory of Spanish Sahara. Matters came to a head in the form of the Ifni War, which lasted for eight months spanning October of 1957 to June of 1958.
At the time of the battle, the Spanish military was in a period of modernization that saw them take a large amount of American equipment into service. America, however, refused to permit Spain to use that equipment in the Ifni War. As such, Spain had to fall back on its remaining German derived machinery to fight the battle.
A number of Buchóns along with post war Spanish built versions of the Junkers Ju-52 tansport and Heinkel He-111 bomber were deployed to Spanish Sahara to battle Morrocan insurgents and their allies.
The Buchóns were primarily tasked with giving close air support to army units on the ground.
Through the Ifni War, the HA-1112 earned the distinction of being the last member of the Bf-109 family to participate in actual battle.
Of course, most people are more familiar with the aircraft fighting battles on the cinema screen or at airshows. Indeed, in such roles, the Buchón has carved out a degree of celebrity and recognition for itself that rivals that of its Messerschmitt forbears which it has so often been called upon to represent.
If you’ve seen any of the following films, you’ve seen a Buchón in action:
“Der Stern von Afrika” (The Star of Africa) A German film from 1957 focusing on the Luftwaffe ace, Hans-Joachim Marseille.
“Battle of Britain” The legendary British film from 1969 features several buchóns filling the Bf-109 role.
“Memphis Belle” The 1990 American film about the Boeing B-17 bomber of the same name.
“The Tuskegee Airmen” A 1995 American film about the famous fighter group of all black pilots in WWII.
“Tmavomodrý svět” (Dark Blue World) A Czech film from 2001 about Czechoslovak pilots in the RAF in WWII. This film is particularly notable as many of the flying scenes were taken from the 1969 “Battle of Britain” and retouched digitally.
The Buchón Today
Actively flying Buchóns would appear to be a rarity these days. However, a bit of looking around showed that there are several of the type in storage or on static display in museums that are still listed on civil registers. If that means they could take to the air again someday, only time will tell.
Happily, the near future may see more Buchóns in the air. For many years, six Buchóns used in the 1969 “Battle of Britain” film sat in storage in Texas as part of the extensive aircraft collection of Wilson “Connie” Edwards. Edwards had been one of the principal pilots in the film and took the six aircraft as payment when the film production company couldn’t pay him the money promised. One of these aircraft was a two seat variant.
In 2014, Edwards put the six aircraft up for sale and they were swiftly purchased by Boschung Global, a Swiss based warbird specialist. All six aircraft have the potential to be restored to airworthy status. The Swiss owner appears intent on keeping a pair, including the two seater, for themselves in Europe and selling the other aircraft on after restoring them.
If one wished to see a Buchón in a configuration authentic to how the type looked when in active service with the Spanish air force, it would seem a museum is the only place you will see such a thing as most examples of the type that made it to civil registers appear to have been altered to bear more resemblance to their ancestral Bf-109s.
A number of Buchóns have also been fitted with Daimler-Benz engines which powered the Bf-109 variants during WWII. Consequently, these Buchóns are particularly difficult to differentiate from their forbears.