The first part in this new Jet age series begins with the first allied operational Jet; The Gloster Meteor.
One can’t look at the early days of Jet aircraft in Britain without mentioning Sir Frank Whittle, who had pioneered jet powered flight during the second world war, culminating with the first flight of the Gloster E28/39 on the 15th May 1941. These initial test flights proved that there was immense potential to be extracted from jet propulsion.
Following the initial testing it became apparent that a single engine was not yet ready to provide a reliable abmount of thurst, so it was decided that early jet aircraft would be twin engined.
Designs were put together even before the E28s first flight, and in Feburary 1941 300 orders were palaced for the new Jet Fighter, then named Thunderbolt. The name was subsequently changed to Meteor to avoid confusion with the american fighter of the same name. Though taxiing trials took place in 1942 it wasn’t until the following year that a Meteor saw air under its wings. Engine supply issues meant that the first flight, on the 5th March 1943, were powered by de Havilland Halford engines as there were problems with the Whittle versions.
The machine to carry out that first flight was the Fifth Meteor prototype; DG202/G (now on display the Royal Air Force Museum Hendon.) Flown by Michael Daunt it was found to be uncontrollable in Yaw, a problem that was soon fixed by enlarging the rudder. Impressively no problems were attributed to the new powerplant.
Following an extensive flight testing program the first production aircraft, an F1 model EE210/G made its first flight on the 12th January 1944. These early mark Meteors were very similar to the prototype models and as such were kept on as part of the jet engine test program, reaching front line Squadrons in July.
In terms of the aircraft’s performance, the government had expected the Meteor to be found lacking against the most up to date piston powered aircraft, except in terms of speed. Interestingly though, when put up against the Tempest V, things were actually much closer, with the Meteor out-performing its piston counterpart in all areas barre some manoeuvrability issues.
The first active squadron to receive the new jet was 616, then based at RAF Culmhead in Somerset. Conversion work was done in great Secrecy at Farnborough before the first aircraft were delievered on the 12th July 1944, shortly after, the 7 Meteors moved to RAF Manston and soon 32 pilots were converted to type.
Of course, the Meteor’s first challenge was combatting the V1 flying bomb which was at the height of its terrorising campaign. The first succesful missions against the V1 were on the 4th August, with two kills being claimed. Evenutally the Meteors claimed 14 V1s destroyed. Following the completion of the V1 campaign and the start of the V2s, Meteors were forbidden from being flown over Germany for fear of them being captured. In October 1944 616 Squadron and their Meteors were used to help US Bomber crews prepare for dealing with Jet engine aircraft. This help came in the form of mock attacks on large formations of B-17s and B-24s.
In December 1944, 616 recieved the much improved F3 model, which featured longer engine naccelles, new Rolls Royce Derwent engines, longer ranger and a larger canopy. These changes led to a much safer and more reliable aircraft and as such the Royal Air Force decided to deploy the Meteors in Europe and four aircraft were sent to Belgium on the 20th January 1945. Though now in Europe, the aircraft were under no circumstances allowed to fly over German territory. Despite hopes that deploying the Meteor close to Germany may coax out the German ME262, the jet-to-jet combat would have to wait until after the war.
Following the limited service during the Second World War the next milestone for the Meteor was the introduction of the F.4, which featured a shorter wingspan, lighter aileron control and a fully pressurised cockpit. The F.4 also saw the first export sales of the Meteor, with 100 being exported to Argentina. The RAF didn’t start converting to the F.4 until 1947.
With such a new and complex type now making up most of the RAFs inventory there was a very real need to be able to train them. The answer emerged in 1949, when the Meteor T.7 developed, allowing tandem flight training on the new jet fighters.
As mentioned above the F.8 design soon became commonplace in RAF service, the F.8 is perhaps the definitive version of the type, with the redesigned tail, longer fuselage and teardrop canopy. These changes very much completed the look and created a very capable aircraft.
The F.8 was followed by a number of PR versions as well as the Night Fighter NF versions. The night fighter featured an extended nose section to allow for the radar equipment.
Meteors were a hugely successful export aircraft for Gloster, with variants being operated by Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Biafra, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, France, West Germany, Israel, Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, Syria, the UK and albeit only a single test aircraft, the United States. Quite the international success!
It was with a number of these foreign forces that the Meteor saw more active combat. notably the Australian Air Force used the Glosters in the Korean war, but they were soon found to be obsolete when flown against newer designs such as the North American Sabre and Mig 15 swept wing jets. Ultimately these newer started to take over, with a number of foreign air forces replacing the Meteor with the Sabre. The RAF largely replaced the Meteor with the Hunter, though some Sabres were used.
Family Ties: Jack Sherburn on the new Jets
One of the things I know I will enjoy about this jets series is that I will be able to tell some of my Grandfather, Jack Sherburn’s stories as the series goes on. For some aircraft theres a wealth of writing to choose from, sadly for others not much was said, but I wanted to provide the information I have, if nothing else as a way of remembering him.
I already mentioned in my DH Hornet piece last year that he converted onto the Meteor, his first jet, with 65 Squadron in January 1951, by June the Squadron had fully switched over to the Meteor and were now flying the F8.
He commented how it was “Quite a big change for aircrew and groundcrew alike. No more skimming across trees…now it was rapid climbs up to 35,000 feet.” These comments must have reflected the thoughts of many young RAF Airmen up and down the country during the late 40s and early 50s.
On the 7th June 1951, Jack took part in the Kings birthday flypast over Buckingham Palace he recalls he was “Somewhere in the mass formation of Meteors” which came from Linton-on-ouse and Church Fenton.
Shortly after 65 Sqn moved to Duxford, in August 1951, Jack moved on to the instructors course at Little Rissington, where he sampled the T.7. This progressed to a year spent instructing with 209 Advanced Flying School at Weston Zoyland. Jack enjoyed his time guiding students through a 12 week program of lectures, ground school and flying lessons.
After this Jack moved on to Farnborough, more details on which will be discussed in a later piece, where he got to sample yet another new Meteor, this time the NF.11. Most of this flying involved various states of test flying, from instrument ratings through to unusual flight attitudes including spinning, to test new artificial horizons!
Jack flew his final variant of the Gloster fighter in 1962, when he had the chance to fly the target towing TT.22 version which had been in storage at Shorts Brothers. I had no idea until putting together this article that Grandad had flown so many Meteor variants, and even more surprisingly been involved with the type on and off for over ten years! He must have liked it is all I can say!
This wouldn’t be a Warbird Tails post without at least a quick look at the surviving examples. A huge number survive around the world in various states of display, many are fully restored and on display while some lay waiting looking a little worse for wear.
It seems sensible to start with the two Meteors that technically speaking are still yet to retire. Two T.7s; WA638 and WL419 are still owned and operated by Martin-Baker Ltd who have used the two jets to test their latest ejection seat designs using a modified rear cockpit. Often when thinking of airworthy examples of the jets these two are forgotten as they are seldom seen in the public eye except for very occasional static appearances. Martin Baker recently confirmed that the pair are currently grounded, but they hope to have them back in the air early in 2016.
Two examples that are seen a little more often are operated by the Classic Air Force and are based at Newquay and Coventry, depending on the time of year:
T.7 – G-BWMF / WA591
This aircraft first flew again for the first time since being written off in a training accident in 1950, after a 20 year restoration on the 14th June 2011 at Kemble. ‘591 is painted in the markings of 203 Advanced Flying School which would have been based at RAF Driffield, Yorkshire. This example is kept in wonderful condition and has been a favourite on the airshow circuit since its return. It is wonderful to see the short winged and short fuselage of the early variants in the skies over Britain again.
I have seen the aircraft a couple of times since its return to flight, with memorable occasions being Dan Grittith’s wonderful aerobatic debut display at Duxford in 2011 and the vintage pair display it performed with the Classic Air Force Vampire to open up the 2014 Farnborough airshow.
NF11 – G-LSOM / WM167
For many years the only Meteor available for airshows was the Classic Air Force’s NF11 model. After a short service life at RAF Leeming in the 1950s the aircraft was put into storage until 1960. Then she was converted to a target towing TT22 standard and was used for target trials at Boscombe Down. Following this, ‘SOM moved to Llambedr for more contracted towing work before being declared as surplus in 1975. Shortly after, having been aquired by Doug Arnold, she was was ferried to Blackbushe and returned to NF.11 standard and placed in storage. In 1994 she was aquired by the Hunter One collection and soon was ferried over to Bournemouth.
‘SOM remained based at Bournemouth until 2004 when she was aquired by Air Atlantique, now Clasic air force. One of the earliest jet warbirds to appear on the scene, ‘SOM has been a less common sighting over the past few years, with the new kid on the block, the T.7 taking many of the bookings. I think I speak for many when i say I hope to see a Meteor two ship display before too long.
More information about the Classic Air Force’s Meteors can be found here:
F.8 – VH-MBX / VZ467
The other flying example can be found in Australia in the form of the only airworthy F.8 model. Built in 1949, ‘467 joined the RAF in the same year, after passing through a number of squadrons, including time with 615 squadron in 1975, she was finally retired from target towing duties in 1982. The Meteor then flew in private hands in the UK for a number of years, passing through a number of owners while being a regular at many airshows up and down the country. In 2001 she was sold to Australia and dismantled for transportation. After reassembly in Bankstown she was flown across to her new base at the Temora Aviation Museum, where she still performs airshows to this day.
More information and photographs of VZ467 can be found here:
The Meteor was certainly ahead of its time and its hard to believe it saw active service during the second world war and went on to have many more years service. Next time Warbird Tails will be looking at de Havilland’s early entry to the Jet Age…..