In the Tintin adventure of King Ottokar’s Sceptre the Bordurian Air Force are shown operating Messerschmitt Bf 109s.
However, these were added in the redrawn and colourised 1947 edition. The first, black and white, edition – that was serialised weekly from August 1938 to August 1939 – shows them operating Heinkel He 118 dive bombers.
Whilst the individual panel compositions have basically remained the same, the page composition for this sequence has been changed in going from four pages down to two:
Heinkel He 188
The photo of an He 118 from Wikipedia matches one frame of the book exactly. Hergé was known for keeping extensive scrap books and using them as reference when drawing Tintin books so it is likely that this photo ended up in his scrap book before becoming the basis for this frame.
The He 118 was a prototype German dive bomber design that lost out to the Junkers Ju 87 Stuka in the mid 1930s and was never ordered by the Luftwaffe. So, whilst it would have been contemporary when Hergé was initially writing the book, the Bf 109, being the main fighter of the Luftwaffe during WWII, would have been much more recognisable to readers in 1947.
It seems that Hergé didn’t have many reference images for the He 118 as the inboard sections of the gull wings are drawn as wing root fillets in most images.
Which Bf 109 version is it?
The Bf 109 was probably drawn by Edgar P. Jacobs who, as part of Studios Hergé, oversaw a lot of the background detail work of post-war Tintin books. It doesn’t exactly resemble any one specific variant of the Bf 109: the nose – and specifically the chin mounted radiator – most closely resemble the Jumo engined B that saw service in the Spanish Civil War but the rounded wing tips most closely resemble the F.
Other details that don’t match between versions are the fixed tail wheel (it was made retractable in the F); the lack of bracing struts for the tail plane (they were first removed for the F); the small triangular panels in front of the cockpit are shown as unglazed (first seen in later F models); and it’s shown with five exhaust stubs on each side that would indicate a V10 engine which was never used in the airframe.
It does look somewhat like the Merlin engined HA-1112 but the details of the nose and the lack of under wing radiators don’t match.
Perrin acoustic locator
The Syldavians are shown as using what looks very much like a Perrin acoustic locator to detect the approach of Tintin in his Bordurian aircraft.
This was designed by French Nobel prize winner Jean-Baptiste Perrin and the locator featured on the cover of Popular Mechanics in December 1930 – which may well have found its way into Hergé’s scrapbook.