December 6, 2022

Messerchmitt Bf-109 at Gulbarga

Seeing is believing! The unmistakable Nazi Cross on tail and the black cross on the fuselage shows the lineage of this aircraft, a Messerchmitt 109E which was found in Gulbarga, Karnataka. Photo: A A Laxman

Wait! did i read that right? Did it say "Messerchmitt"? MESSERCHMITT? As in WW2- German , As in Dr. Willi MESSERCHMITT? Is that a Swastika that I am seeing in that photo? My God! It is!

One of the unofficial features of the site was what I termed as a "Warbird discovery of the year" award. This was basically to signify the discovery of a hitherto unreported vintage aircraft of importance. In the year 2001, the ‘Award’ went to a gentleman who reported the derelict airframe of a Percival Prentice in Chennai. The Prentice was the only known example still surviving in India outside the Indian Air Force Museum. For the year 2002, I had only one nomination going on , A Firefly was reported to be on its way to restoration and display at INS Hansa in Goa. The decision was almost taken to appoint the Firefly as the ‘Warbird discovery of the year’ when one fine day in May, I received an email from Laxman Anataramu.

The Hunt for the Messerchmitt Bf-109

Messerschmitt014m.jpg (31846 bytes) Gulbarga Pushpak01 Small
FAIR TRADE OR FISHY DEAL? The Messerschmitt Bf-109E airframe which was worth around 300,000 USD was traded by the college for a HAL Pushpak which is valued at 2000 USD – The college claims that they received no further renumeration.

When the Messerschmitt Bf-109 went missing from Gulbarga’s PDA College of Engineering, the College management was not very concerned. According to a statement by the Hyderabad Karnataka Education Society, the ‘junked’ aircraft was exchanged for another vintage aircraft, a vintage car and a motorcyle and a bicycle. The trade seemed above board and legal, with the college trust board passing a resolution in February 2002 that the exchange deal be carried out.

Even as the deal was being worked out, WarbirdsofIndia came to know of its existance and the information was bought to the notice of the Indian Air Force Authorities. Since the aircraft lay in the jurisdiction of the IAF’s Training Command at Bangalore, It was decided that Air Marshal TJ Master, AOC-in-C of the Command will carry out the formalities of requesting for the aircraft.

The Indian Air Force was interested in procuring the aircraft and restoring it for its Museum, and made the offer of a Kiran Jet Trainer for the college. The Principal of the college at that time explained his helplessness, saying that the aircraft belonged to the government and probably the Gulbarga Municipal Corporation and it was out of his jurisdiction to give it to the IAF. Accordingly Air Marshal Master wrote to the Chief Secretary of the Karnataka State Government about the aircraft.

Around August 2002, Mr. Naidu had delivered his part of the deal, an Unidentified aircraft, a Morris Minor car, a vintage Motorbike and a bicycle. The Bf-109 was shipped out in two different trips. When this was found out by the IAF, all hell broke loose in Bangalore. The IAF wanted the Karnataka State government to take action, but the Karnataka State Police were not clear on the course of action. In due course of time, everyone seemed to forget about the aircraft.

However it seemed that all was not hunky dory with the trade offer. When the trade offer was investigated, it was found that the aircraft offerred in exchange was a HAL Pushpak. All put together, the Pushpak, the car and the bikes were valued at less than Rs 1,00,000/- or around $2000/-. The College claimed that they had not received anything more. Clearly the deal was less profitable to the college than the HAL Kiran that the Air Force offered. More importantly, no documents existed that the HKES were the owners of the aircraft. The correct owners of the aircraft was the Gulbarga Municipal Corporation, in whose park the Bf-109 was displayed till 1961, before it was moved to PDA College. And neither the GMC nor the State goverrnment was informed of the deal.

The Story on how PDA College sold an aircraft that never belonged to it and that too for a pittiance was broke in the media, when Sandeep Unnithan  of India Today Magazine did a story on the Vintage Aircraft Exports going out in the country. Taking the cue from the story, several newspapers followed up on the deal, and a criminal case was registered against the HKE Society. The Gulbarga Police, under DSP Mr. Alok Kumar immediately swung into investigating the story.

The first step in contacting Mr. Gireesh Naidu came to naught. Mr. Naidu was contacted on phone in which he reportedly expressed his desire to restore the aircraft and display it within India. But later on he was not contactable. HKES and its chairman Mr. BG Jawali came under severe pressure because of the deal, and in a statement to the Indian Express , Mr. Jawali expressed that the college has decided to cancel the deal and take back the aircraft , but it was unable to do so as Mr. Naidu was not to be contacted.

No one has an idea as to where the aircraft is currently. For all people might know, the aircraft might have left the country by now. Mr. Gireesh Naidu claimed it was still in the country, the Gulbarga Police did not have any information on this. Nor do the respective state governments of Andhra Pradesh or Karnataka.

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