Was the Me262 the First Airplane to Break the Sound Barrier?
By André Chelain
Was the German jet interceptor Messerschmidt 262 the first airplane in the world to break the sound barrier? The answer to this question is shaking up the aeronautical world, because it could easily knock several shining heroes of the US Air Force from their pedestals.
As far as official historians are concerned, Charles Yeager was the first pilot to achieve the great feat of supersonic flight, on board a Bell X-1 in 1947. In the future, the historians may have to revise their teachings, however. Luftwaffe veterans are claiming that they broke the sound barrier in 1944.
The Americans are uncommonly proud of their pilots, whom they praise to high heaven whenever they set new records or do anything exceptional. In American military legends, breaking the sound barrier was as great a feat as the first space flights.
Historical revision is going to be painful for them, especially as it pertains to those Air Force pilots who were involved in the binge of record-breaking in the late 40s and early 50s, before the age of space exploration. Idolized and made into national heroes, they are spectacularly touted by Tom Wolfe in his dazzling film The Right Stuff.
And indeed, theirs was no small accomplishment. In October of 1947 Chuck Yeager, at an altitude of 8750 meters, ignited the rockets of his Bell X-1, which had been carried to an altitude of 8750 meters beneath a B-29. He described the sensation as a feeling that his lungs were "as flat as pancakes." Within minutes the young flier had become the darling blue eyed boy of American journalism; and thanks to the immense power of the American media his story was broadcast around the globe.
The Messerschmidt Me 262
Arguably the most aesthetic of all airplanes ever built
Give the Germans the Credit They Deserve
Sooner or later, historians will have to acknowledge German discoveries and inventions made during the Third Reich, which American pretense and cover-ups have denied for half a century. It was German public health officials who initiated campaigns against tobacco smoking and cancer, German scientists and engineers who made the pioneering breakthroughs in modern air and space travel. In 1945 the results of their work were expropriated and taken to the USA where they were impressed into the service of the American military machine. A similar fate befell French experts who were involved in the development of nuclear weapons. They were kept against their will in the USA and they were not allowed to take their personal records with them when they returned to France after World War II.
The Vanquished Speak Out
Nowadays in Germany, however, voices are being heard which cast doubt on the official version according to which Chuck Yeager was the first to break the sound barrier. Anglo American historians will be forced to take cognizance of their arguments. After more than half a century of silence in which they endured war, defeat and captivity, German pilots and engineers are determined to set the record straight and regain for the Luftwaffe the credit and recognition it deserves. In the final months of the War, completion of the Luftwaffe’s program to develop jet interceptors, particular the Me 262, brought its designers and pilots some unpleasant surprises. Nobody had realized the real potential of this superb airplane, which was indeed the tiger shark of the air. The pilots were the first to realize that it had achieved the speed of sound. The Germans are now claiming that the sound barrier was broken by an Me 262 during aerial combat against allied aircraft, when it went into a power dive. Former Luftwaffe pilot Hans Guido Mutke, now 80 years old, is certain that he surpassed Mach 1, which is the speed of sound. He was a member of a new Me 262 squadron which the Luftwaffe hastily put together in hopes of creating a turning point in the air and thereby changing the course of the war.
Shaken by a Giant
On 9th April, Mutke was flying at an altitude of 12,000 meters when he received a distress call from a comrade who was being attacked by a British Spitfire. In response, he immediately put his jet fighter into a power dive. Here is his description of what happened then:
"The airspeed indicator was stuck in the red danger zone, which is over 1100 km/hr.
I noticed that rivets began popping out of the tops of the wings.
The airplane began vibrating and shaking wildly, banging my head against the sides of the cockpit.
After diving about three miles I again regained control and was able to return to base.
On the runway the mechanics were very surprised by the appearance of the airplane, which looked as though it had been shaken by the hand of a giant."
Reports prepared by American test pilots in 1946, which have been preserved in military archives in Dayton, Ohio, describe in detail the performance of the German jet fighter and support the claims of the German pilots. The Me 262 did indeed have the capacity to achieve Mach 1. Additional arguments to confirm this have been submitted by Professor of Aeronautics Karl Doetsch, now 90 years old. In 1944 he was assigned the task of discovering why several Me 262s had mysteriously crashed or disintegrated in the air. In the course of several experiments Prof. Doetsch soon established that difficulties set in at around Mach .85 He concluded that pilots who unknowingly broke through the sound barrier were likely to lose control of their aircraft and crash.
The Speed of Sound
After more than half a century it is difficult to confirm or deny the claims of the German pilots, especially since the speed of sound varies with altitude, air pressure and temperature.
At sea level, Mach 1 corresponds to a speed of 1193 km/hr, but this decreases with increasing altitude. At 12 000 meters it is 1063 km/hr. Therefore it is difficult to determine whether an airplane has exceeded the speed of sound without bulky measuring devices. Chuck Yeager’s record will probably stand for a long time to come, because it was scientifically measured, documented and authenticated. Hans Mutke’s record, on the other hand, was made in the heat of combat. He has nothing to support it except terrifying memories of losing control of his airplane. An air speed of 1100 km/hr at an altitude of 8000 meters surpasses the speed of sound. If Mutke began his power dive at an altitude of 12,000 meters and leveled off at 8750 meters, his Messerschmidt met these conditions. An airspeed of 1100 km/hr at an altitude of 8,000 m clearly surpasses the speed of sound.
How the Past Was Obscured by Terror
In the climate of intellectual terror which has reigned in Germany for the last 30 years it has been impossible to acknowledge German achievements made between 1933 and 1945. The irrational nature of this totalitarian attitude is evident from a large number of examples. The swastika, symbol of National Socialism, may not be publicly displayed. This is an essentially religious measure which has no historical parallel. Pioneering measures of the National Socialist leadership in introducing policies to protect the environment are likewise denied. Göring’s legislation to forbid the vivisection and butchering of live animals; legislation prescribing humane hunting practices; measures against the abuse of tobacco, prophylactic measures against cancer; and laws for the peaceful use of nuclear energy are all historical facts which have been repressed. The official historians continue to weep under the rug everything which would contribute to a multifaceted or differentiated view of Hitler’s government.
The Me 262, a one man airplane, exhibited the ultimate design and performance of its day.
This article originally appeared in the magazine L’Autre Histoire, III(18), Juli 2001, S. 36f. (la Licorne bleue, 3 bis rue Jules Vallès, F-75011 Paris); translated into English by James M. Damon.
Source: The Revisionist 1(1) (2003), pp. 69-71.
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