Hitler’s personal plane was powered by this US-designed engineS

The first BMW product may have been an aircraft engine, but it took help from the United States to return BMW to their roots after World War I put an end to German aircraft engine production. This BMW 132 radial nine began life in 1926 as the Pratt & Whitney Hornet and went on to power thousands of Luftwaffe planes, including both of Hitler’s personal planes during his reign over Germany.

BMW, reduced to making motorcycles after the Treaty of Versailles had forbidden German companies from making aircraft engines, acquired the licence to build the engine that would become the 132 from Pratt & Whitney in 1928. Pratt & Whitney called it the Hornet, and BMW stuck with that name for the first few years. It was a 27.7-liter air-cooled radial nine, making a modest 525 hp at the outset. Direct fuel injection would boost that to 1,200 hp.

By the time the Nazis took over Germany, BMW had its own version of the Hornet. They called it the 132. Over 21,000 units were made in six variants during the Tausendjähriges Reich’s 12 years in existence. They were used in bombers, fighters, transport planes, and seaplanes.

Adolf Hitler had two personal planes during his 12 years in power. Both of the planes were powered by 132’s. After taking power, he was flown around in a Junkers Ju 52, a large

Hitler’s personal plane was powered by this US-designed engineS

transport plane. In 1939, the Junkers was replaced with a brand-new Focke-Wulf Fw 200 Condor, reconfigured as the Die Fliegerstaffel des Führers (left), the plane that would see out Hitler’s war years until it was destroyed in an Allied raid in 1944.

A year before all the unpleasantness of which this beautiful engine was a part of began in Europe, the BMW 132 made aviation history and returned to its roots in the Northeastern United States: the Condor that made the first direct flight from Berlin to New York City on August 10, 1938, had four 132’s to carry it across the then-friendly skies. And by the time the war was over, the age of the radial airplane engine was over as well.

Photos by Award Photography and the Deutsches Bundesarchiv