Gloster Meteor

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  • Paver Meteor
    Air Atlantique Meteor May 2011
The Gloster Meteor was the first British jet fighter and the Allies’ first operational jet aircraft during the Second World War. The Meteor’s development was heavily reliant on its ground-breaking turbojet engines, pioneered by Sir Frank Whittle and his company, Power Jets Ltd. Development of the aircraft itself began in 1940, although work on the engines had been underway since 1936. The Meteor first flew in 1943 and commenced operations on 27 July 1944 with No. 616 Squadron RAF. Nicknamed the “Meatbox”, the Meteor was not a sophisticated aircraft in terms of its aerodynamics, but proved to be a successful combat fighter.

Several major variants of the Meteor incorporated technological advances during the 1940s and 1950s. Thousands of Meteors were built to fly with the RAF and other air forces and remained in use for several decades. The Meteor saw limited action in the Second World War. Meteors of the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) provided a significant contribution in the Korean War. Several other operators such as Argentina, Egypt and Israel flew Meteors in later regional conflicts. Specialised variants of the Meteor were developed for use in photo-reconnaissance and as night fighters.

The Meteor was also used for research and development purposes and to break several aviation records. On 7 November 1945, the first official air speed record by a jet aircraft was set by a Meteor F.3 of 606 miles per hour (975 km/h). In 1946, this record was broken when a Meteor F.4 reached a speed of 616 mph (991 km/h). Other performance-related records were broken in categories including flight time endurance, rate of climb, and speed. On 20 September 1945, a heavily modified Meteor I, powered by two Rolls-Royce Trent turbine engines driving propellers, became the first turboprop aircraft to fly. On 10 February 1954, a specially-adapted Meteor F.8, the “Meteor Prone Pilot”, which placed the pilot into a prone position to counteract inertial forces, took its first flight.

In the 1950s, the Meteor became increasingly obsolete as more nations introduced jet fighters, many of these newcomers having adopted a swept wing instead of the Meteor’s conventional straight wing; in RAF service, the Meteor was replaced by newer types such as the Hawker Hunter and Gloster Javelin. As of 2013, two Meteors, WL419 and WA638, remain in active service with the Martin-Baker company as ejection seat testbeds. Two further aircraft in the UK remain airworthy, as does another in Australia.

Gloster Meteor NF.11 WM167 / G-LOSM

Classic Air Force’s Gloster Meteor NF.11 is the only surviving Night Fighter Meteor left in airworthy condition and was one of the first privately owned jet fighters to operate in the UK.

WM167 was built under licence from Gloster by the Armstrong Whitworth Company at Baginton (Coventry) airport in 1952. It entered service with the RAF’s 228 Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) at RAF Leeming, Yorkshire in August but after just a month she was passed to 33MU at RAF Colerne in Wiltshire for storage.

The aircraft returned to 228 OCU the following year and remained on charge with the unit until 1960 when she headed south to 33MU at Colerne yet again. Her stay was brief yet again as she was returned to Armstrong Whitworth in January 1961 for modification to TT.20 target towing configuration. Upon completed WM167 was allocated to the Aeroplane and Armaments Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down, Wiltshire where she was used for target towing trials.

By now WM167 still only had 559 hours ‘on the clock’ and a quiet year at Boscombe Down only added another 20 hours to the logbooks. At the end of the trials exercise WM167 headed back to 33MU at Colerne yet again before being delivered to Flight Refuelling Ltd. The aircraft spent the next ten years towing targets under an MoD contract at both Tarrant Rushton in Dorset and Llanbedr in North Wales.

The aircraft was declared surplus in 1975 and purchased by well-known ‘warbird’ collector Doug Arnold for his Warbirds of Great Britain (WoGB) collection, which at that time was based at Blackbushe. She was ferried to Blackbushe on December 1, 1975 by the late-Neil Williams and converted back into NF.11 Night Fighter configuration before entering storage.

Over the years G-LOSM has featured in a variety of documentaries and has taken part in a number of important flights – including carrying the ashes of jet-engine designer Sir Frank Whittle. Today the aircraft remains airworthy at Coventry and is painted in a camouflage scheme typical of the Night Fighting Meteors of its day. It carries no squadron markings at present but depicted 141 Sqn for many years during the 1980s and 90s.

G-LOSM not only flies as a tribute the early jet pilots but also to those preservation pioneers who led the way in civilian jet fighter operations during the early 1980s.

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