Wilhelm Emil "Willy" Messerschmitt was a German aircraft designer and manufacturer whose fighter plane, the Bf-109, was the pride of the Nazis during World War II. Messerschmitt built model airplanes as a boy, and in his teens he and architect Friedrich Harth began building full-sized gliders. Discharged from military service for health reasons during World War I, he studied engineering at the Munich Institute of Technology and in 1923 formed his own aircraft company. After a rocky start in the 1920s and gradual success in the 1930s, his company had great success with the Bf-109, the Luftwaffe's greatest weapon in the early years of the war. At the tail end of the war the Messerschmitt company built the Me-262, the first jet fighter to be used in combat. By then it was too late to save Adolf Hitler
's Germany; after the war Messerschmitt was convicted of having used slave labor and he spent two years in prison. After his release he was initially restricted from making airplanes -- his company went to manufacturing prefabricated homes and automobiles. By the late 1950s he was back manufacturing aircraft, at first for clients outside Germany. A series of mergers in the 1960s ended with an aviation corporation with Messerschmitt as the chairman. He retired in 1973 and died in 1978.