Oblt. Franz Stigler

Like many veteran Luftwaffe fighter pilots, Franz Stigler had years of frontline experience before conversion to the Me 262. He had fought with JG 27 flying the Bf 109 in Tunisia in support of Rommel’s Afrika Korps and later on the Western Front in the defense of Germany. He had flown with Hans-Joachim Marseille in Africa, been part of legendary battles such as the Palm Sunday Massacre and battled the American "heavies" in defense of the Reich. Besides the Bf 109, he had flown dozens of types. By the time the Me 262 became fully operational, Franz Stigler was exactly the type of airman that could use the advanced fighter to full advantage. He was what the Allies feared most - a seasoned, gifted fighter pilot flying the most advanced weapon in the air.

It was in early February 1945, when General Adolf Galland himself invited Stigler to join JV 44, the legendary "Squadron of Experts". Galland's only stipulation was to "bring a jet with him". Franz did just that. He actually took delivery of a brand-new Me 262 at the Leipheim Me 262 factory. The factory had been bombed earlier in the day and Franz was given permission to take the jet, rather than risking it being destroyed in another air raid.

This particular Me 262, coded "White 3", became his regular mount. This is unusual, as most JV 44 pilots did not have a regular aircraft, they usually flew what happened to be available. Franz relates that his "White 3" was considered a "hot" Me 262, a really good ship and he wouldn't allow anyone else to fly it. Only General Adolf Galland himself "pulled rank" and flew it on a few missions. It is interesting to note that over time "White 3" has somehow become associated with Galland. Stigler and Galland even joked about paintings showing Galland flying "White 3" - that Dolfo was actually flying "Franz's Me 262".

Unfortunately, "White 3" came to a sad end. Franz relates that a newly arrived Leutnant Pirchan persuaded Stigler to let him fly Stigler's “lucky White 3”. 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 in a farmer’s field while being comforted by Stigler.

Oberleutnant Franz Stigler survived the war having flown over 500 combat missions, was shot down 17 times, captured once briefly and had 28 confirmed victories to his credit, including 11 four-engine bombers, plus over 30 other “probables”. His decorations include the Iron Cross 2nd Class, the Iron Cross 1st Class, and the German Cross in Gold. The great conflict ended before he could receive the “Knights Cross” he had been nominated for.

- Webmasters note:
I was fortunate to meet Franz Stigler and his wife at the Wings of the North Airshow in 2004. He was in attendance as a featured guest, signing photos and talking to people. I also attended the Evening with Eagles dinner on Saturday night and was able to sit at his table - quite an honor! It was wonderful to hear some of his stories first-hand. The things he experienced could easily fill a book. He is a true gentleman who remains modest about his many accomplishments.