Gloster Meteor

Gloster Meteor T.7 VZ634
Gloster Meteor T.7 - VZ634
Design and Development

Development of a turbojet-powered fighter by Sir Frank Whittle's firm, Power Jets Ltd., and the Gloster Aircraft Company began in November 1940. The first British jet powered aircraft, the single-engined Gloster E28/39 prototype, had its maiden flight on 15th May 1941. The Air Ministry subsequently contracted for the development of a twin-engined jet fighter under Specification F9/40. The aircraft was to have been named Thunderbolt but to avoid confusion with the USAAF P-47 Thunderbolt the name was changed to Meteor

Eight prototypes were produced, but delays with getting type approval for the engines meant that although taxiing trials were carried out, it was not until the following year (1942) that the first flights took place. The first Whittle-engined aircraft, DG205/G, flew on 17th June 1943 and was followed by DG202/G in July. DG202/G was later used for deck-handling tests aboard aircraft carrier HMS Pretoria Castle. DG203/G made its first flight on 9th November 1943 but was soon relegated to a ground instructional role. DG204/G (powered by Metrovick F.2 engines) first flew on 13th November 1943. DG208/G made its debut on 20th January 1944, by which time the majority of design problems had been overcome and a production design approved.

On 12th January 1944, the first Meteor F.1, serial EE210/G, took to the air from Moreton Valence. It was essentially identical to the F9/40 prototypes except for the addition of four nose-mounted 20 mm (.79 in) Hispano Mk V cannons and some changes to the canopy to improve all-round visibility. For the production Meteor F.1, the engine was switched to the Whittle W.2 design, by then taken over by Rolls-Royce. This aircraft was later sent to the U.S., where it was first flown at Muroc Army Airfield on 15th April 1944.

Typically for early jet aircraft, the Meteor F.1 suffered from stability problems at high transonic speeds, experiencing large trim changes, high stick forces and self-sustained yaw instability (snaking). The Meteor F.2 was an alternate Goblin engined version and only one prototype, DG207/G, was built. The next variant, the Meteor F.3, was a much better proposition. Similar to the F.1 but it incorporated numerous refinements, including a sliding canopy, increased fuel capacity (a ventral fuel tank was fitted) and a strengthened airframe. The first fifteen were fitted with Welland engines while the remainder of the total had the improved Derwent I, giving 2,000lb of thrust, due to airflow separation over the thick tail surfaces.

The next major change was the Meteor F.4 that went into production in 1946, by which time there were 16 RAF Squadrons equipped with Meteors. The first F.4 prototype flew on 17th May 1945. The F.4 could also be fitted with a drop tank under each wing while experiments were performed with carriage of underwing stores and also in lengthened fuselage models. The F.4 was 170 mph faster than the F.1 at sea level, although the reduced wings impaired its rate of climb.

A modified two-seater F.4 for jet-conversion and advanced training was tested in 1949 as the T.7. It was accepted by the RAF and the Fleet Air Arm and became a common addition to the various export versions. As improved jet fighters began to emerge, Gloster decided to perform a redesign of the F.4 to keep it up to date, while retaining as much of the manufacturing tooling of the F.4 as possible. The result was the Meteor F.8 which was to be the definitive production model, serving as a major RAF single-seat fighter until the introduction of the Hawker Hunter and the Supermarine Swift.

The first prototype F.8 was a modified F.4, followed by a true prototype, VT150, that flew on 12th October 1948, at Moreton Valence. Flight testing of the F.8 prototype led to the discovery of an aerodynamic problem. It was found that when ammunition was expended, the aircraft became tail-heavy and unstable around the pitch axis due to the weight of fuel retained in fuselage tanks no longer being balanced by the ammunition. Gloster designers solved the problem by substituting the tail of the abortive "G 42" single-engine jet fighter. The F.8 and other production variants were to successfully use the new tail design and the new tail gave the later Meteors a distinctive appearance, with taller straighter edges compared to the rounded tail of the F.4's and earlier marks. Initial deliveries of the F.8 to the RAF were in August 1949, with the first squadron receiving its fighters in late 1950.

In the 1950's, Meteors also were developed into effective photo-reconnaissance, training and night fighter versions. The fighter-reconnaissance (FR) versions were the first to be built, replacing the ageing Spitfires and Mosquito's then in use. Two FR.5's were built on the F.4 body, one was used for nose section camera tests, the other broke-up in midair while in testing over Moreton Valence. On 23th March 1950, the first FR.9 flew

In addition to the armed, low-altitude operation, tactical FR.9 variant, Gloster also developed the PR.10 for high-altitude missions. The first prototype flew on 29th March 1950 and was actually converted into the first production aircraft. The PR.10 was delivered to the RAF in December 1950 and were given to No.2 Squadron and No.541 Squadron in Germany and No.13 Squadron in Cyprus. The PR.10 was rapidly phased out from 1956 with improving surface to air missile technology and newer, faster aircraft rendering it obsolete.

Production of the Meteor continued until 1954 with 3,900 built (not including 8 prototypes built), mainly the F.8 variant. As the Meteor was progressively relegated to secondary duties in later years, target tug, drone and specialised test vehicles were added to the diverse roles that this first-generation jet fighter took on.

Record Setting

Late in 1945, two F.3 Meteors were modified for an attempt on the world air speed record. On 7th November 1945 at Herne Bay in Kent, UK, Group Captain H.J. (Willy) Wilson set the first air speed record by a jet aircraft of 606 mph (975 km/h). A small plaque commemorating this achievement can be found in Macari's Cafe, Herne Bay.

In 1946, Group Captain Edward "Teddy" Donaldson broke this record with a speed of 616 mph (991 km/h), in EE549, a Meteor F.4. Test pilot Roland Beaumont had previously taken the same aircraft to its compressibility limit at 632 mph, but not under official record conditions, and outside its official safety limits.

In 1947, S/L Janusz Żurakowski set an international speed record, London-Copenhagen-London, 4-5th April 1950 in a production standard F.8 (VZ468). The Danes were suitably impressed and purchased the type soon after.

Another "claim to fame" was the Meteor's ability to perform the "Żurabatic Cartwheel", a new aerobatics manoeuvre, named after the Gloster acting Chief Test Pilot, first accomplished in the Gloster Meteor G-7-1 prototype at the 1951 Farnborough Air Show where the Meteor, due to its unique location of widely-set engines could have individual engines throttled back and forward to achieve a seemingly stationary vertical cartwheel. Many Meteor pilots would go on to "prove their mettle" by attempting the same feat.

On 7th August 1949, the Meteor III, EE397, on-loan from the RAF and flown by Flight Refuelling Ltd test pilot Patrick Hornidge, took-off from Tarrant Rushton and, refuelled ten times by a Lancaster tanker, remained airborne for 12 hours and 3 minutes, receiving 2,352 gallons of fuel from the tanker in ten tanker contacts and flying an overall distance of 3,600 miles, achieving a new jet endurance record.

Operational History

The first 20 production aircraft were delivered to the RAF on 1st June 1944 with one example also sent to the U.S. in exchange for a Bell YP-59A Airacomet for comparative evaluation.

No.616 Squadron was the first to receive operational Meteors, 14 of them. The squadron was based at RAF Culmhead, Somerset. After a conversion course at Farnborough for the six leading pilots, the first aircraft was delivered to Culmhead on 12st July 1944. The squadron now with seven Meteors moved on 21st July 1944 to RAF Manston on the east Kent coast and, within a week, 30 pilots were converted.

The Meteor was initially used to counter the V-1 flying bomb threat. No.616 Squadron Meteors saw action for the first time on 27th July 1944 with three aircraft active over Kent. The Meteor accounted for 14 flying bombs. These anti-V-1 missions of 27th July 1944 were the Meteor's and the RAF's first operational jet combat missions. After some problems, especially with jamming guns, the first two V-1 "kills" were made on 4th August.

After the end of the V-1 threat, and the introduction of the ballistic V-2 rocket, the RAF was forbidden to fly Meteor F.1 on combat missions over German-held territory for intelligence security reasons and, the greatly improved F.3 was in prospect.

In March 1945, the entire squadron was moved to Gilze-Rijen and, then in April, to Nijmegen. The Meteors flew armed reconnaissance and ground attack operations without encountering any German jet fighters. The war ended with the Meteors having destroyed 46 German aircraft through ground attack and having faced more problems through misidentification as the Me 262 by Allied aircraft and flak than from the Luftwaffe. To counter this, continental-based Meteors were given an all-white finish as a recognition aid.

Production Summary
G.418 prototypes
F.120 built
F.22 built
F.3210 built
F.4735 built
FR.52 built
T.7650 built
F.81,550 built
FR.9126 built
PR.1059 built
NF.11307 built
NF.12100 built
NF.1340 built
NF.14100 built
U.1590 (F.4 conversions)
U.16250 (F.8 conversions)
U.218 (F.8 conversions)
TT.2022 (NF.14 conversions)
Specifications(Meteor F.1)
Length:41.24 ft (12.57 m)
Width:43.01 ft (13.11 m)
Height:12.99 ft (3.96 m)
Empty Weight:>8,139 lb (3,692 kg)
MTOW:13,819 lb (6,268 kg)
Max Speed:410 mph (660 km/h, Mach 0.55) at 10,000 ft (3,050 m)
Max Range:500 mi (800 km)
Rate-of-Climb:2,155 ft/min (24.6 m/s)
Service Ceiling:34,000 ft (11,500 m)
Engine:2× Rolls-Royce W.2B/23 Welland turbojets, 1,700 lbf (7.6 kN) each
Armament Standard:4 × 20 mm British Hispano cannons
Armament Optional:Provision for up to 16 x "60lb" 3 in rockets under outer wings