The Bücker Bü 181 was a monoplane sporting and trainer aircraft, featuring an enclosed cockpit canopy that protected the two occupants, who sat in a side-by-side configuration. The low-mounted wing was of wooden construction with plywood and fabric skinning while the fuselage mid-section consisted of a tubular steel framework covered with fabric. The rear fuselage was a wooden shell.
The prototype, registered D-ERBV, was taken aloft for the first time in February 1939 with Arthur Benitz at the controls. The flying qualities of the new design were found to be excellent and following thorough testing by the German Ministry of Aviation it was introduced into service with the Luftwaffe as their standard training aircraft, named Bestmann. Full production was commenced in 1940 of the two main variants, the 181B and 181C, differing only due to the powerplant, which was either a Hirth HM 500 A or B. The need for training aircraft grew as the war progressed and the type was produced not only by the parent company at Rangsdorf but also by Fokker in the Netherlands and Zlin in the then-Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.
As well as its training duties the Bestmann was also used for light liaison duties but towards the end of the war, as the situation grew ever more desperate for the Germans, it was even pressed into action as ground attack aircraft armed with either four Panzerfaust anti-tank grenade launchers -two mounted on either wing- or three 50kg bombs. A large number of Bestmanns were passed into service with the British Air Forces of Occupation post war.
Production of the Bestmann continued in liberated Czechoslovakia after the war for military and civilian markets, with several different engines installed. Licence production was also carried out in Sweden as the SK 25 and during the 1950s Egypt’s Heliopolis Aircraft Works obtained a licence to produce its own version, the Z-381 Gomhouria (‘Republic’), powered by a Walter Minor 4-III engine. Many of these Swedish, Czech and Egyptian machines flew in service into the 1960s and some can still be seen in 21st century skies.
Photo etched parts included.
A- WkNr.201236/SK+WQ, 3 Panzerjagdstaffel, Kauberen April 1945
B- 1 Panzerjagdstaffel, Finow May 1945
C- WkNr.502167, 3 Panzerjagdstaffel (flown to Switzerland 18 April 1945 and impressed into Swiss Air Force as A-254)