Hans Guido Mutke

Aviator who believed he broke the sound barrier in 1945

Hans Guido Mutke, pilot and gynaecologist: born Neisse, Germany 25 March 1921; married (two children); died Munich 8 April 2004.

Flying a Messerschmitt 262 jet fighter, on 9 April 1945 Hans Guido Mutke may have become the first person to travel faster than the speed of sound as he flew over Austria.

In an attempt to assist a fellow pilot under Allied fire he went into a sharp dive and lost control of his Me-262 as it started to vibrate violently and the controls ceased to function. When he regained control, the speedometer was stuck at 1,100km an hour. On his return to base, considerable damage was revealed. Although he saved his comrade, this could have cost him his place in the squadron, as pilots had been ordered not to exceed 950km/h. If Mutke's account is true, and there are doubters, the story means that the German Luftwaffe pilot broke the sound barrier two years before the US pilot Colonel Chuck Yeager, who achieved this during a 1947 flight over California.

Mutke, called up when he was a medical student, spent three years as a night fighter reconnaissance pilot searching for, and tracking, Allied bombers over Germany. The war was already lost, and the Americans and British effectively controlled the skies over Hitler's Reich when, because of his flying skills, Mutke was posted to train as a jet pilot flying the Messerschmitt 262, the first jet plane produced in quantity for combat. On his last combat mission, running out of fuel, Mutke crossed into neutral Switzerland, to avoid falling into enemy hands. He was interned with American flyers who had also landed in Switzerland.

After the Second World War, released from Swiss internment, Mutke completed his medical training, in Berne and Zurich, but then spent some years flying DC-3 Dakotas for airlines in Argentina and Bolivia. On his return to Germany, he worked as a gynaecologist until his retirement. He did, however, keep his ties with military aviation by serving as a reserve medical officer in the German air force. His Me-262 was handed over by the Swiss, in 1957, to the Deutsches Museum in Munich, where it is still on display.

It was only in 1989 that Mutke became convinced that he had broken the sound barrier. This was after discussing his flight with experts at a conference in Munich celebrating the 50th anniversary of jet-powered flight. He died during a heart operation in Munich, and donated his body to Gunther von Hagens, the controversial artist who uses human bodies in his "Body Worlds" exhibitions.

David Childs