What makes an ace an Ace?

An interview with Luftwaffe pilot 

Franz Stigler

Interview and narrative © Michael Fuller 2003 exclusively for The 109 Lair.


Luftwaffe pilot Franz Stigler getting out of his Bf 109 in Sicily after returning from Africa.

 We have all heard the term “Ace”, and along with that spark the names, Hartmann, Galland, Rall.  All pilots who had missions in the hundred and kill scores to match.  We rank them based on kills and determine, “yes, he was the greatest pilot”…

 Throughout the Messerschmitt control panel/cockpit restoration I am working on, I have met numerous people in the collecting community; enthusiasts, Messerschmitt fans, collectors and restorers.  In early June while searching for information on the Oxygen Regulator I was restoring, I ran into an ex-Mosquito pilot by the name of Ken, who suggesting I speak with his friend, Luftwaffe Ace, Franz Stigler.  At that point I wasn’t familiar with the name…didn’t know who he was…his name didn’t mean anything nor come up on the Ace list.  He passed on his number and said, “give him a call…he’s always pretty open talking about things.  He’s the Luftwaffe pilot that let that B-17 go, and escorted him halfway home…” I must say after hearing that, a lump formed in my throat…I was excited, intrigued and scared…all at the same time. 

My grandfather never talked about the war…only thing I ever knew was that he was a Bren Gunner for the Canadian Military and eventually a Sniper.  Talking about the war was something that almost seemed forbidden in the family.  Watching such great films as Saving Private Ryan, and the Band of Brothers…I realized in the next decade…those first-hand stories and experiences are eventually going to be gone.  Talking with Franz was something I HAD to do…it was the first, and probably only opportunity I would ever have to talk to a Luftwaffe pilot…just picturing him escorting a B-17 halfway home instead of shooting it down to this day still brings tears to my eyes.

 I called up Franz in late June, and through his lovely wife, made arrangements to meet.  I told him I was writing a film about the Luftwaffe (which is true), but for the most part, just wanted to “talk”…something I was never able to do with my grandfather.  Franz was quite polite and friendly…and 2 weeks later we eventually met.

 I arrived at Franz Stigler’s house around 10:00 am.  Behind a forest of large Spruce trees was a small picturesque house on the outskirts of Surrey, BC.  Looking at it from the outside, it wasn’t what I expected, and at the same time exactly what I expected…quite…peaceful, serene.  A small sign on the gate displaying, “The Stigler’s” was a welcoming presence.  Old Christmas decorations still were displayed in their front yard, and a small gravel road led to their garage. 

Franz’s house was something out of an old photograph.  Collectable plates and antiques, which filled the hallway, gave a warm sense and smell of history.  Franz invited me with a smile and led me into his study.  The site was almost breathtaking.  In a small room only big enough for 2 chairs and a coffee table, housed the most intense collection of aircraft memorabilia I have ever seen.  The walls were covered with paintings of Me109’s; Me262’s…pictures of friends, some gone and lost; medals, at least 30 models in various sizes (1/72 – 1/16); books; reference materials; a humanitarian award given to him by the American Government…and a plate of cookies freshly baked. 

I sat down on the comfortable chair, which was between him and myself.  I looked around the room in awe, trying to take in everything I could, but it was almost like bombardment.

 Are you alone here today?

             My wife is here…but she, a…she is at the hospital right now.  She’s been there since last night.

 Is she going to be okay? 

            Oh yeah…she is okay. 

After carefully resting his cane on the floor he sat in his comfortable chair…I immediately was overcome with nervousness.  Behind me was a massive painting of a Trop Me109F-2 pained in his Afrikan colours.  I knew what I wanted to ask…the list 3 pages long confirmed that…looking back I almost wished I threw away the list as it almost felt like an interview than a conversation.

Is that your plane, the big picture?

                   That was my plane in Afrika…

You know…I really don’t know how to start…I really appreciate you sitting down with me and spending this time.  Do you mind if I just start asking you a few questions?

        Yeah, go ahead… 

You began your career with Jagdgeschwader 27…how did you get involved with them and the Luftwaffe…Had you always wanted to be a pilot? 

Well, I was a pilot before, uh…the Air Force...also.  At the time…we, uh…became pilots…we had nothing to do, uh…with the Air Force, so we were attached to the Lufthansa, and uh…so we were also…I mean, I was out, uh… of my own training…uh…as a pilot…as a…as a private person, and, uh…then I went to, uh…to train in seaplanes… I had an unlimited seaplane license.

 Wow…did you always want to fly as a boy?

 Well…I wanted…My father was a pilot in the first world war, my grade 5 teacher was a…a fighter pilot in the first world war…my brother and I…we… joined the flying club with glider planes, you know… when I was 12 years old, my brother was…16 at the time.  I think my first glider flight…was a little… between 12 ½ and 13 years.

 So you were fairly experienced then?

Oh, yeah…

 When did you report to JG27?

                     I didn’t report…I was reported…and so…in…1942. 

Now, the first plane you flew in the Luftwaffe was the 109?


 Which was the first Model was it?


 How did you like it?

I liked it a more than any other one…this is an F model.

(Franz points back to the massive painting behind me) 

Cool…it has the tropical filter as well.

Yeah…and where is a G…(Franz looks around date the multitude of painting and photographs)… that is a G model here…(Franz points to another smaller painting, again featuring a G-6 in his original colours)…that’s the last 109 I was flying.

The last one you flew was a G?

Yeah…actually it was a K model, but uh…we used it as a G model, you know…and then I was a…a pilot for the 262 also.

How did you like it? I mean you had so many years as a pilot, and you basically went from a prop driven plane over to a jet.  Did your experience flying help with the 262, or did you have to learn over again, being something totally new?

 No, no…my flying experience as I said…was with all kinds of - I don’t know how many different types I flew, maybe a hundred...and uh, so…it was something that we flew…same with the flying boat, you know. I flew all kinds of flying boats, you know...up to 4 motors… at the time

 From what I understand, the 262 was very dangerous?  The engines had a tendency to overheat… 

Oh yeah…

 …Did you feel safe in it flying? 

Oh yeah, oh yeah, very safe you know…our engines were very good, you know… which in the end it helps.  No…I… once had an officer in Germany, but uh…

 (Franz stopped himself…it sounded like it was quite personal, so I didn’t pry…) 

What was you first impression when you first flew the 262?

Well, we…uh…we had only single seaters, you know…there…and then at the first factory where I had learned to fly it, we were 14…the first 14 men, I was one of them.  They, uh…stud on the…stood on the wing, you know, we were sitting in the cockpit, and they showed us everything…and so, then they said to us, “this is your speed for take off, and then, uh…that’s your landing speed… now take off!”… you know…

 Really! (I start laughing). 

…And that’s how we learned to fly it.

Wow…The cockpit in the 262 was much bigger than the 109 wasn’t it?           

Yes, big…and comfortable…it was a comfortable airplane and a safe airplane, let’s put it this way, you know.  My Number 3 got…2 days before the war was over…a friend of mine… had not a chance to fly the airplane yet, he had so many flights, only he had not very many with it and so I said, “okay, fly it”, you know…he killed himself…on takeoff.  (Through research I found out that it was Leutnant Pirchhan.  After persuading Stigler to allow him to fly the plane, soon after take-off Pirchhan crashed at Oberweissenfeld, north of the airfield, totally destroying the aircraft and was fatally wounded. He died a few hours later being comforted in Stigler’s arms in a farmer’s field)

On the 109 and the 262, the Revi sights were always mounted slightly to the right…

Yes, uh…on the panel…in front sometimes…but usually they were in the middle.

 Why did they sometimes have them to the right? 

Uh, usually we were…uh, right handed, you know…and so…on the 109 they were not so to the right…on the 109 they were right in front of you.

Your favourite was the F model, yet the one that was produced the most was the G6… 


 …But most pilots preferred, like yourself, the F models and the earlier G’s, like the G-2.  What was the reason behind that?

The G6 basically had a heavier motor and could fly higher…not more speed, but that’s it…it starts getting heavier every time they put something new in.

 Did you ever have the GM-1 boost or MW-50 in any of your planes? 

Oh yeah, we used it quite often…in combat you know.

How long did it last? 

Uhh…you were not allowed to have it at more than 5 min., you know…if you used it 10 minutes, then motor has to come out.

 It makes the engine worse?

It wrecks the motor.

 And this was for the higher altitude?


 And at what speed could you get up to?

Oh boy…I don’t remember…450 or 500 km…

 Like you said, you could only use it for 5 min. otherwise you would burn out the engine. How many 5 min. intervals could you use?  Did you have to shut it down for a period of time to let the engine cool?

That’s okay…that uh…it didn’t matter.  You…but you never used it for five minutes…a minute, minute and a half and that’s it.

The armament, you used on the Messerschmitt…you used the Mk108 cannon…

Yeah we had it in the middle…we had two centimetre…or later a three centimetre Cannon…and then a thirty millimetre on top…two of them.

Was there a fairly big muzzle flash from the cannon?

Oh yeah…oh yeah…(Franz pints to a picture of his Me262). Up there we had four, three centimetre cannons…I shot a wing off a B-17 once...

Did the aircraft move quite a bit when you fired the weapon?

No, no, not at all. 

Really?  I assumed that because of the large calibre cannon, the plane would move quite a bit.

No, no…only very small…but that’s all.

What about the gun pods…a lot of pilots had the option of these…they found that -

Oh, I never… I hated them!!  I never had them on my airplane.  As soon as I got a new airplane… I say, “That’s a damn part, off with them!”...Made it sluggish, you know.

 Yeah, I heard a lot of pilots hated them…so, if most pilots didn’t like them, as it made the airplane sluggish, poor manoeuvrability, why do you suppose they kept trying to incorporate them?

Just more firepower...

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