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Wartime Me 262 Pilot Said He Flew Faster Than Sound

Hans Guido Mutke loomed larger than life, say those who knew him. A very experienced but very junior German military pilot, Mutke flew the Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe (Swallow) jet fighter near the end of World War II. After the war, “with tremendous charm and enthusiasm,” according to author and analyst G. G. Sweeting, Mutke was taken seriously – by some – when he claimed to have been the first person to fly faster than sound.

A Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe (Swallow) at an austere airfield, ca. 1944. Bundesarchiv photo

A Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe (Swallow) at an austere airfield, ca. 1944. Bundesarchiv photo

On April 9, 1945, Fähnrich (Officer Candidate) Mutke was climbing through bright, cloudless expanse over the Third Reich at the controls of an Me 262 – enjoying very rare clear weather at the controls of the twin-engine jet that was one of the most advanced warplanes of its era.

A large man who felt a little cramped in the Me 262 cockpit, Mutke (1921-2004) was enjoying the clear sky and the smooth feel of his fighter in “clean” condition with wheels up and no ordnance or fuel tanks beneath his wings. In his earphones, was the voice of one of the Reich’s top fighter aces, commander of the jet fighter training unit Ergänzungs-Jagdgeschwader 2 (EJG 2), none other than Obersleutnant (Lt. Col.) Heinrich Bär. A veteran of more than a thousand combat sorties, Bär (1913-1957) had a way of conveying authority while seemingly remaining mild-mannered. Now, Bär got Mutke’s full attention.

          “He’s under attack, right now…”

This was supposed to be a high-altitude training mission but Bär was saying that an American P-51 Mustang fighter was firing on one of their fellow Luftwaffe pilots in another Me 262 nearby. Mutke had been instructed to climb to 36,000 ft after takeoff. He was near the Me 262’s service ceiling, listed on the books as 38,000 feet, when he received the call and decided to rush to the aid of the German pilot who was under attack.

 

The Deepest Dive

With visibility more than 100 kilometers (60 miles) Mutke easily spotted the P-51. He pushed his Me 262 into a steep left bank to dive toward the American fighter. Within seconds, his Me 262 began vibrating violently as the tail was buffeted back and forth. His airspeed indicator was designed for a maximum reading of 1,100 kilometers per hour (684 miles per hour) and now the needle was jammed up against that maximum number.

Hans Guido Mutke believed he flew faster than sound in the Messerschmitt Me 262 on April 9, 1945. Most observers seem to think he didn't exceed the speed of sound. Or did he? Photo courtesy of the Robert F. Dorr Collection

Hans Guido Mutke believed he flew faster than sound in the Messerschmitt Me 262 on April 9, 1945. Most observers seem to think he didn’t exceed the speed of sound. Or did he? Photo courtesy of the Robert F. Dorr Collection

The nose pitched down sharply. The plane was no longer controllable.

Mutke told author Walter J. Boyne:

“I moved the stick wildly around the cockpit. For a brief moment, the airplane responded to controls again momentarily, then went back out of control. The plane still did not respond to pressure on the stick so I changed the incidence of the tailplane. The speed dropped, the aircraft stopped shaking, and I regained control.” This is a reference to changing the angle of attack of the horizontal stabilizer.

Tests at the Messerschmitt plant in Augsberg had indicated that the Me 262 had a structural limit of Mach 0.86. At that speed, the Me 262 would become uncontrollable but a pilot could regain control by slowing down.

Later in life, Mutke said he overcame his high-speed dive by adjusting the Me 262’s whole tailplane incidence while the aircraft was still at high speed. This, plus Mutke’s recollection that he briefly regained control while still accelerating, matches up with later accounts of recorded flights at supersonic speed. Mutke reportedly believed that he was only one of many German jet pilots who exceeded Mach 1.0 in the Me 262. Most experts are skeptical and do not believe any Me 262 pilot achieved the feat before Capt. Charles E. “Chuck” Yeager made history’s first recorded supersonic flight in the Bell XS-1 rocket research aircraft on Oct. 14, 1947.

 

Brilliant Background

Mutke began medical school before the war, completed advanced studies later after a stint as a civilian transport pilot in South America, and became a gynecologist, aviation doctor and authority on space medicine. In an interview Boyne remembered Mutke as “brilliant…cordial and friendly,” but said he “had a way of dominating conversations.” Mutke remained a fähnrich throughout the war because he would not become a Nazi, but his experience belied his junior rank.

Before becoming a jet pilot, Mutke flew hundreds of sorties in twin-engine propeller aircraft.  He flew the Messerschmitt Bf 110 into British bomber streams to report on their altitude, speed and flight path. He flew combat missions over Great Britain. He bailed out of a Bf 110 near Paris in a snowstorm. In October 1942, he was at the controls of a Dornier Do 217 he said was sent to shoot down against a British aircraft believed to be carrying Winston Churchill. He never reached the British plane and it does not appear Churchill was in the air that day.

The Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe (Swallow) was the first jet fighter to become operational in large numbers. This angle accentuates the sweepback of its wing, which was 18.5 degrees. Photo courtesy of the Robert F. Dorr Collection

The Messerschmitt Me 262 Schwalbe (Swallow) was the first jet fighter to become operational in large numbers. This angle accentuates the sweepback of its wing, which was 18.5 degrees. Photo courtesy of the Robert F. Dorr Collection

Mutke’s assertion that he flew faster than sound was not his only claim to fame. On April 25, 1945, after attempting to engage a formation of B-26 Marauder medium bombers, Mutke flew his Me 262 to neutral Switzerland. When fighting in Europe ended two weeks later, Mutke took the position that because the Third Reich no longer existed, he was the rightful owner of the sleek jet fighter.

The Swiss authorities never attempted to test-fly the Me 262. They returned it to Germany in 1957 and it’s now on display at the Deutsches Museum in Munich. Over the years, Mutke filed several lawsuits asserting his personal ownership of the Me 262 — but to no avail. During the time he made his mark in the medical profession, Mutke continued flying as a civilian pilot. He hoped to fly one of the Me 262 replicas that began to appear in the United States in 2002. He never got the chance.

Because Mutke was interviewed repeatedly, numerous accounts of his experience have survived. None reveals what happened to the fellow German pilot who was under attack by a P-51 on the day of Mutke’s most fateful flight.

 

Messerschmitt Me 262A-1a Schwalbe

Type: Single-seat air superiority fighter

Powerplant: Two Junkers Jumo 004B-1/2/3 axial-flow turbojet engines each providing 2,000-lb (907 kg) static thrust

Performance: Maximum speed 521 mph (838 km/h) at sea level; 530 mph (852 km/h) at 9,845 ft (3000 m); 532 mph (856 km/h) at 26,246 ft (8000 m); initial rate of climb 3,937 ft (1200 m) per minute; service ceiling 38,000 ft (11582 m); range 652 miles (1050 km)

Weight: Empty 8500 lb (3855 kg); empty 9,742 lb (4413 kg); gross weight 14,080 lb (6387 kg)

Dimensions: Span 40 ft 11-1/2 in (12.50 m); length 34 ft 9-1/2 in (10.57 m); height 12 ft 7 in (3.83 m); wing area 234 sq ft (21.73 sq m)

Armament: Four 30-mm. Rheinmetall-Borsig Mk 108A-3 cannons with 100 rounds per gun for the upper pair and 80 rounds per gun for the lower pair; ordnance station for 12 R4M air-to-air rocket projectiles

First flight: April 18, 1941 (Me 262V1); October 17, 1943 (Me 262V6); 1944 (Me 262A-1a)

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Fred L. Borch retired from the Army after 25 years of active duty, and now...