The Gloster Meteor

v1.1.0 / 01 dec 02 / greg goebel / public domain

* The Gloster Meteor was the first operational British jet fighter, and the only Allied jet fighter to see combat in World War II. The Meteor served in the postwar period with many different air services and in many different roles. This document outlines the history of the Meteor.

[5] METEOR F.4 / FR.5 / T.7
[6] METEOR F.8


* The early story of the Gloster Meteor is interwined with British efforts to develop turbojet engines. In 1929, a young British Royal Air Force (RAF) flight officer named Frank Whittle came up ideas for building an aircraft engine based on the gas turbine. Other researchers had played with the concept, but Whittle was the first to have the engineering and aeronautical skills to do something useful with it.

Since all earlier attempts to develop an aircraft engine based on the gas turbine engine had failed, and Whittle's notions were so new and unusual, he was generally dismissed by government and industry authorities. However, Whittle was stubborn enough to apply for a patent on his ideas in 1930, and continued to promote his engine concepts, with a remarkably lenient RAF giving him time and opportunity to pursue the matter.

In 1936, Whittle set up a small firm named Power Jets LTD to pursue his ideas, and was soon applying for new patents. One was for a "bench-test" gas-turbine engine designated the "Whittle Unit (WU)". Whittle began tests of the WU in 1937. The tests were successful, if sometimes extremely frightening, with the engine having a nasty tendency to go into violent runaway operation. Fortunately, Whittle was not killed or maimed, and managed to get the WU working well enough that by 1938 the British Air Ministry began to provide him with moderate funds to continue his work.

In June 1939, with the WU working in a reliable and impressive fashion, the Air Ministry ordered a flight-worthy engine, the "W.1", from Power Jets. In September 1939, the Air Ministry also ordered that Gloster design an aircraft, the "E.28/39", to test-fly the engine. In the meantime, Whittle was hearing rumors that the Germans were also working on "turbojet" engines, as they came to be known.

* Things were still not smooth sailing for Whittle. The Air Ministry was interested in his engine, but it wasn't the highest priority, and by September Britain was in a war that the country was poorly prepared to fight. In fact, by the summer and fall of 1940, Britain was struggling for its life as German Luftwaffe air fleets pounded the island and Hitler built up forces for an invasion.

Despite the disruption caused by the Battle of Britain, work on turbojet engines and aircraft continued at a low level. In fact, in 1940 the Air Ministry issued a request, designated "F.9/40", for an operational turbojet-powered fighter. Given that Whittle's W.1 and its possible derivatives appeared significantly underpowered, Gloster's chief engineer George Carter proposed a twin-engine aircraft with the company designation "G.41" for the specification.

The proposal was approved in November 1940, with a batch of twelve prototypes ordered on 7 February 1941. The G.41 was named "Thunderbolt" in September 1941, but in early 1942 it became apparent that this would cause confusion with the new American Republic P-47 Thunderbolt, and the name was changed to "Meteor".

* The first of two experimental E.28/39 test aircraft, which had the company designation "G.40" and were known informally as the "Gloster Whittle", began taxi trials with an non-airworthy W.1X engine on 8 April 1941, with Whittle himself performing some of the tests, and Flight Lieutenant P.E.G. "Gerry" Sayer, Gloster's chief test pilot, performing a few "hops" of the runway that same day. After the aircraft was refitted with a proper W.1 engine, Sayer performed the first real flight in the aircraft on 15 May 1940, with everything going smoothly, and Sayer having nothing but good to say about the experience.

The second G.40 did not fly until March 1943. It would be lost due to a flight malfunction four months later, with the pilot baling out successfully. The first would eventually end up as a museum piece.

The G.40 was a simple all-metal "flying stovepipe" design, with a low-mounted straight wing and retractable tricycle landing gear. It was powered by a single Whittle W.1 engine, providing 3.78 kN (385 kg / 850 lb) thrust. It had a wingspan of 8.84 meters (29 feet), a length of 7.74 meters (25 feet 4 inches), a maximum loaded weight of 1,678 kilograms (3,700 pounds), and a modest top speed of 544 KPH (338 MPH).

Well, it was a beginning. Power Jets continued to refine their design to create the "W.2B" series engines, which incorporated successive refinements until they provided almost 11.0 kN (1,130 kg / 2,500 lb) thrust. The different engine subvariants were all the same diameter and could be flight-tested in the G.40 aircraft, which ultimately obtained a top speed of at least 750 KPH (466 MPH).



* Despite Whittle's success, development of the operational G.41 fighter was slow. Power Jets was not in a position to mass-produce the Whittle engine, and trying to find another firm with the resources to do it for them led to a two-year delay in production. As a result, progress of the G.41 project ended up tracking the somewhat convoluted path of early British turbojet development.

By October 1940, the Air Ministry was interested enough in the Whittle engine to arrange for production of the W.2B by Rover. Unfortunately, the term "misarranged" is probably more appropriate, since Power Jets and Rover worked at all times at cross purposes, with the confusion aggravated by contrary instructions from the British Ministry of Production.

The jet engine development effort slowly strangled on its own red tape until 1942, when Rolls-Royce's Ernest Hives took S.B. Wilks of Rover out to lunch and, as the story has it, asked Wilks: "Give us this jet job and we'll give you our tank-engine factory in Nottingham."

Rolls-Royce wanted the jet engine and knew what they wanted to do with it, and indeed, beyond the end of the millennium, still does. In fact, the company's own engineering staff had been working on jet propulsion since 1939, and in making the swap Rover was giving away something they didn't really want, while Rolls-Royce was obtaining a treasure.

A W.2B engine, plugged into the tail of a Vickers Wellington bomber, was test-flown that November, and after further improvements was test-flown in the second G.40 Gloster Whittle in March 1943. The W.2B was providing 7.11 kN (725 kg / 1,600 lb) thrust by this time. Rolls-Royce worked with Whittle to finally get an uprated version of the W.2B engine in production as the "Welland I".

* The Whittle WU, W.1, and W.2B were all "centrifugal-flow" engines, which used a turbine similar to a pump impeller to force air into a set of combustion chambers or "combustors" ringed around the engine. The flow of air went through the combustors from back to front. Such a "reverse flow" scheme helped reduce the length of the engine. These engines had only the most general resemblance to a modern military turbofan engine, but the same design concepts would not be out of place in a modern helicopter turboshaft engine.

Rolls-Royce then reworked the design to feature straight-through air flow through the combustors and better fuel and oil systems, resulting in the "Derwent I", providing 8.83 kN (900 kg / 2,000 lb) thrust. The Derwent was refined in various versions up to the Mark IV, which provided 10.8 kN (1,100 kg / 2,450 lb) thrust.

* Stanley Hooker, who had been in charge of the Rolls-Royce design team that refined the Derwent, visited the US in the spring of 1944, and found that General Electric was developing two turbojet engines with thrust ratings of 17.6 kN (1,800 kg / 4,000 lb) or higher. Hooker, realizing that the British had been thinking small, went back to Britain and initiated a fast track project to build a new, much more powerful centrifugal-flow engine.

The result was the "RB.41 Nene", which was first bench-tested in October 1944 and provided 22.3 kN (2,270 kg / 5,000 lb) thrust. The Nene was the world's most powerful engine at the time, and it was also simple, cheap, and reliable. The Nene was made in large numbers, with versions made in Canada, Australia, France, the US, and the USSR.

The Nene was such a good engine that Rolls-Royce decided to build a scaled-down version, which was designated the "Derwent 5" though it had little direct relationship to earlier Derwent marks. The Derwent 5 was first bench-tested in June 1945, with the test engine providing 11.8 kN (1,200 kg / 2,650 lb) thrust.

* In the meantime, since early 1941 de Havilland had been working on their own centrifugal-flow turbojet engine, derived from earlier Whittle patents and not the W.1 design. The result was the de Havilland "Halford H.1", which was first bench-tested in April 1942. By late 1943, the H.1 had been refined into the "Goblin" engine, which provided 10.2 kN (1,040 kg / 2,300 lb) thrust and would power the de Havilland Vampire fighter.

* British jet engine development was following yet another parallel track at the time. As far back as 1939, Metropolitan-Vickers ("MetroVic"), a Manchester firm that specialized in steam turbines, was working on what would become the first British "axial-flow" turbojet engine, a design that was almost entirely unlike the centrifugal-flow engines being developed by Whittle and others.

Such axial-flow engines featured sets or "stages" of fan blades arranged around a central axle, compressing air into a combustion chamber, which was followed by another set of fan blades that kept the axle spinning. The axial-flow turbojet would prove to be the way of the future for fixed-wing aircraft, though the centrifugal-flow engine would become the basis for modern helicopter turboshaft engines.

The initial MetroVic engine, the "F.2", was first bench-tested in December 1941, and was producing 8 kN (815 kg / 1,800 lb) thrust by November 1942. The MetroVic designs eventually led to the "F.9 Sapphire", which was passed to Armstrong-Whitworth in 1948 and was one of the more prominent jet engines of the 1950s.



* Only eight of the twelve G.41 Meteor prototypes were completed, and they featured a confusing variety of different engine fits, reflecting the zigs and zags of British engine development. The initial engine fit was specified as Rover W.2B engines, with the first and fourth prototypes completed with such powerplants. However, after performing taxi tests and short hops with the first G.41 prototype in July 1942, Gerry Sayer said the thing was simply too underpowered to fly safely, and as related, the Rover turbojet engine development effort was dying of its own bureaucracy.

The first Meteor to actually fly took to the air on 5 March 1943, with Michael Daunt at the controls. It was the fifth in the prototype manufacturing sequence and was fitted with de Havilland Halford H.1 turbojets, the ancestor of the Goblin.

This particular engine fit led to the sixth prototype, which flew on 12 July 1945 and featured full-development de Havilland Goblin engines. The sixth prototype was to lead to a "Meteor Mark II (G-41B)" series. However, de Havilland wanted to reserve Goblin production for their Vampire fighter. The Meteor Mark II didn't enter production, and operational Meteors would never feature Goblin engines.

The third prototype featured another unusual engine fit, being powered by MetroVic F.2 axial-flow engines in oversized nacelles. It flew in November 1943, but although other axial-flow engines would be tested on later versions of the Meteor, all operational Meteors would be fitted with centrifugal-flow engines.

The other prototypes were fitted with variations on the W.2B engine, except for the eighth, which was fitted with Rolls-Royce Derwent I engines. This aircraft flew on 18 April 1944, and pointed the way to operational Meteor marks.

* There was uncertainty about production of the Meteor for some time. The jet engines available at the time were clearly "fuel hogs" and the Meteor necessarily had limited range, making it only suitable as a interceptor. Since the bombers of the German Luftwaffe were no longer a real threat to the British Isles, and to the extent that they were they could be dealt with by current fighters, there was no immediate reason to disrupt critical production of existing aircraft to field the Meteor. Test and development of the Meteor continued for the time when it would be needed.

By mid-1943 intelligence reports of new German jet aircraft and missiles indicated that time was coming near, and led to the first production Meteor, the "Mark I (G-41A)", which was basically used for operational evaluation. 20 were built by Gloster, with the first flying on 12 January 1944. They were fitted with Rolls-Royce W.2B / Welland I engines with 7.55 kN (770 kg / 1,700 lb) thrust each. The Meteor I had a "clear-view" canopy instead of the heavy framed canopy of the prototypes.

The Meteor I was fitted with four 20 millimeter Hispano cannon, though six had been specified in the original G.41 requirement, and in fact one of the prototypes had mounted six. However, one pair of cannon was so mechanically inaccessible that under some circumstances ground crews would have had to remove them while they were still loaded. This was a dangerously accident-prone condition. Any experienced military person knows that if stupid accidents can happen, they will, and so those two cannon were deleted, leaving two cannon mounted on either side of the nose. The deletion of the two cannon led to balance problems that required nose ballast, a fix that would get worse before it got better.

The Meteor I was an all-metal aircraft of conventional construction, with low-mounted straight wings with two spars, turbojets mid-mounted in the the wings, and a high-mounted horizontal tailplane to keep it out of the way of the jet exhaust. It had "fence"-style air brakes above and below the wings inboard of the engines to keep the aircraft controllable in a high-speed dive.

The Meteor was designed in a "modular" fashion, a consequence of the fact that it had been originally ordered during the Battle of Britain, when planners had considered the need for "dispersed production", with different factories building different subassemblies of the aircraft for final assembly at a central location. This basic scheme was retained in later versions, making the Meteor easy to transport, repair, and salvage.

The Meteor had tricycle landing gear, which were shorter than those for a piston aircraft as there was no propeller to divot up the ground. A mechanical indicator popped up from the nose when the nose gear was down to alert the pilot. The cockpit was pressurized and mounted well forward. An external tank, with a capacity of 477 liters (126 US gallons), could be bolted on to the belly of the aircraft.

The first Meteor I was traded to the US for a Bell XP-59A Airacomet, the first American jet aircraft, for comparative evaluation. A few Mark Is were retained for development work in Britain. Of these aircraft, one of the most interesting was the 18th Meteor I, which became the "Trent Meteor". This was the world's first turboprop-powered aircraft and was flown on 20 September 1945. It was powered by Rolls-Royce Trent engines, which were basically Derwent IIs hastily fitted with a gearbox system to drive propellers.

* The rest of the Meteor Is entered RAF squadron service beginning in July 1944 with RAF Number 616 Squadron. The Meteor I was no faster than contemporary piston-engine fighters at high altitude, but unlike them it retained its speed at low altitude, and so was pressed into service to intercept German V-1 flying bombs that summer.

Flying Officer "Dixie" Dean scored the Meteor's first kill, against such a missile, on 4 August 1944. Dean, his cannons having jammed, maneuvered his aircraft under the wing of the flying bomb to throw it off guidance and into the ground. Another Meteor pilot, Flying Officer J. Roger, shot down another flying bomb later that day with his cannons, and a total of 13 kills were scored with cannon fire into August, when the flying-bomb attacks ceased. This was a very small quantity compared to the thousands of flying bomb attacks and kills, but the Meteors served a useful propaganda purpose.

In October, four Meteors participated in exercises designed to develop defensive tactics for Allied bomber formations under attack by Luftwaffe jets. The final report from the exercises provided recommendations for appropriate tactics, but concluded that stopping the German fighters might be very difficult. In operational practice, however, the tactics proved highly effective.

The Meteor I was underpowered, had heavy controls, and pilots complained about the poor view to the sides and rear. The cannon suffered from jams, which turned out to be caused by the spent links from the ammunition belts accumulating in the ejection chutes. The jamming problem was quickly resolved, but there were doubters in the RAF that the newfangled Meteor was the way of the future. Others believed the type had considerable potential, The believers would be proven right.



* The Meteor "Mark III (G-41C)" was the first variant to go into full production. 210 were built, with initial deliveries to the RAF beginning in December 1944 and the last of the variant rolled out in 1947. The Meteor Is were all quickly replaced by Meteor IIIs.

The Meteor III featured a stronger airframe, greater internal fuel capacity, and a rear-sliding canopy, as opposed to the side-hinged canopy of the Meteor I. The first 15 Meteor IIIs were powered by Rolls-Royce W.2B / Welland I turbojets, but the rest were fitted with Rolls-Royce Derwent I turbojets with 8.83 kN (900 kg / 2,000 lb) thrust each. The heavier engines increased the balance problem, and the solution was to add yet more ballast.

The pilots appreciated the additional power provided by the Meteor III relative to the Meteor I, as well as the improved view with the new canopy. However, the ailerons had been deliberately wired to be "heavy" to prevent aerobatic maneuvers from overstressing the wings, and pilots complained that maneuvers in the aircraft were very tiring. This had not been a problem with the Meteor I, as it hadn't been cleared for aerobatic maneuvers.

Pilots also complained that it tended to "snake" at high speed, limiting its accuracy as a gun platform, and it tended to become uncontrollable in a dive due to compressibility buffeting. However, the aircraft was basically liked. A flight combat exercise against the excellent Hawker Tempest V piston fighter concluded:


The Meteor III is superior to the Tempest V in almost all departments. If it were not for the heaviness of its ailerons and the consequent poor maneuverability in the rolling plane, and the adverse effect of snaking on it as a gun platform, it would be a comparable all-round fighter with greatly increased performance.


A few Meteor IIIs flew to the Continent in January 1945 and operated out of the Low Countries with the 2nd Tactical Air Force until the end of the war in early May 1945. They performed ground strafing attacks, but never engaged in air combat. Meteor pilots were keen to test their aircraft against the Messerschmitt Me-262 jet fighter, but at least initially they had orders not to fly beyond enemy lines lest one of their aircraft be shot down and examined, and as the war dragged on to its finale, the Luftwaffe flew fewer and fewer sorties as German fuel supplies dwindled. The first jet dogfights would have to wait for the next war.

Some Meteors were painted white during the winter of 1944:1945 for camouflage, and also so that that Allied anti-aircraft gunners wouldn't mistake them for German jets. Meteors were fired on anyway, but none were lost to "friendly fire", though there were losses due to fatal flight accidents.

Just after the end of the war in Europe, a few Meteor IIIs were evaluated for possible use in the photo-reconnaissance role, but at the time their performance was not appreciably superior to the Spitfire PR.XIX, the Meteor's range definitely worse. The idea was not adopted, but it wasn't forgotten, either.

Following deck handling trials with a Meteor prototype in 1945, two Meteor IIIs were fitted with an arresting hook and reinforced landing gear, and used for carrier trials in 1948. The two aircraft performed takeoffs and landings from the HMS ILLUSTRIOUS and HMS IMPLACABLE. The Royal Navy was impressed by the navalized Meteor, but decided to obtain the Supermarine Attacker instead.


[5] METEOR F.4 / FR.5 / T.7

* The Meteor III was a substantial improvement over the Meteor I, but the basic design still had not reached its full potential. Wind-tunnel and flight tests demonstrated that the short nacelles of the Meteor III, which ended just behind the wing, contributed heavily to compressibility buffeting at high speed, and a new, longer nacelle was designed as a fix.

The new nacelles increased the redline speed at altitude by 120 KPH (75 MPH), even without new powerplants. The last batch of Meteor IIIs that rolled off the production line featured the longer nacelles, and apparently some Meteor IIIs were also retrofitted in the field with the new nacelles.

Engine development had continued in the meantime, and one Meteor III was built with Rolls-Royce Derwent 5 engines, the scaled-down version of the Nene, providing 15.6 kN (1,590 kg / 3,500 lb) thrust each. This aircraft first flew in July 1945, and became the prototype of the next Meteor variant, the "F.4" (Fighter Mark 4, the RAF having switched from Roman to Arabic numbers by that time, with the type having the company designation "G-41F").

However, in Britain the end of the war was followed by a general assumption that nobody was going to be in the mood for more fighting any time soon, an idea that proved to be a complete delusion, and also by general physical and economic exhaustion. For the moment, there was no urgency to produce an updated Meteor variant.

As a result, Gloster, under Air Ministry direction, continued to tweak the Meteor design without putting a new version into production. One F.4 prototype had its guns removed, gun ports faired over, and engines uprated for burst power to set a world speed record of 975 KPH (606 MPH) on 7 November 1945, with Group Captain H. Wilson at the controls.

On learning that the Americans were preparing for an assault on the world speed record with the Lockheed Shooting Star, the RAF reworked a few F.4 prototypes with a number of changes, most notably clipping the wings to reduce the span by 1.47 meters (4 feet 10 inches), and broke the Meteor's own world speed record on 7 September 1946, with Group Captain "Teddy" Donaldson clocked at 991 KPH (616 MPH). The aircraft was painted yellow and named either "Forever Amber" or "Yellow Peril".

It is an interesting comment on the rate of progress in aircraft performance at that time that this was regarded as such an astonishing improvement in performance that many believed aircraft wouldn't get much faster any time soon.

* The Meteor F.4 finally went into production in 1947. It featured the Derwent 5 engines and the clipped wings, a stronger airframe, a fully pressurized cockpit, lighter ailerons to improve maneuverability, and rudder trim adjustments to reduce snaking. The F.4 could also be fitted with a drop tank under each wing, and experiments were performed with carriage of underwing stores.

The clipped wings not only provided greater speed, they also improved the roll rate, though at the expense of a longer takeoff run and faster landing speed. They were also intended to reduce stress on the wings, following an accident when a Meteor broke up in the air after pulling out of a dive, killing a Gloster test pilot.

A total of 535 Meteor F.4s were built for the RAF, with 48 of that number second-sourced by Armstrong-Whitworth. The F.4 was also exported in large numbers. Gloster took an F.4 on a sales tour in 1947, painted red with white detailing. Although this aircraft was damaged beyond repair by a Belgian pilot early in the tour due to a landing gear malfunction, international sales were brisk.

100 were bought by Argentina in 1947, with the aircraft sent to the country as kits, which were then assembled by Gloster personnel. They saw action during political unrest in 1955, with at least two being lost, and remained in service into the early 1970s.

48 were bought by Belgium, 20 by Denmark, 12 by Egypt, and 38 by the Netherlands. The Dutch later obtained 27 used F.4s from the RAF, and the French obtained a pair of used F.4s for development work, one being used to test Atar engines.

   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                11.3 meters         37 feet 2 inches
   length                  12.5 meters         41 feet
   height                  3.96 meters         13 feet

   empty weight            5,090 kilograms     11,220 pounds
   loaded weight           6,600 kilograms     14,550 pounds

   maximum speed           930 KPH             580 MPH / 505 KT
   service ceiling         12,200 meters       40,000 feet
   range (no tanks)        980 kilometers      610 MI / 530 NMI
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

As with the original Meteor prototypes, the Meteor F.4 was used as an engine test bed. Meteors were fitted axial-flow engines, including the MetroVic F.2/4 Beryl, the ancestor of the Armstrong-Siddeley Sapphire, and with Rolls-Royce RA.2 and RA.3 Avon engines. These engines were mounted in oversized nacelles, in much the same way as had the MetroVic F.2s tested with one of the the original Meteor prototypes. Both the Beryl and Avon test aircraft demonstrated extraordinary rates of climb.

In 1954, one of these same Meteors received a highly unusual engine fit, consisting of Nene engines with thrust deflectors on the bottom of the of the engine nacelles, intended to lower takeoff and landing speed. This engine fit demanded extensive modifications to the aircraft, with nacelles extended forward of the wings, clipped wings replaced by the old full-span wings, and replacement of the F.4 tail structure with the revised and lengthened tail structure of the Meteor F.8, of which more is said in the following section.

Results were promising, but the scheme was regarded as too complicated. "Vectored thrust" systems would have to wait for a decade or so to become respectable.

Other experimental engine fits included French Atar axial-flow engines, mentioned earlier, and afterburning versions of the Derwent Mark 5 and Mark 8. Meteor F.4s were also used to evaluate in-flight refueling schemes, which were never implemented in production Meteors, and Martin Baker ejection-seat trials, which led to standard fit of such seats in the later Meteor F.8.

* Over 90 F.4s were modified by Flight Refueling LTD beginning in 1954 as target drones. The conversions were given the designation of "Meteor U.15", and featured airframe reinforcement; jettisonable wingtip camera pods for scoring, which were recovered by parachute and had a radio beacon; and an infrared flare system, with triple-flare launchers under each engine nacelle. They were radio-controlled, but still could be flown by a pilot. The cannon were of course removed.

The U.15s served with both Britain and Australia. The were mostly used for missile trials and the like, as they were too expensive to be considered particularly expendable.

* Several other Meteor variants were derived from the F.4. The experimental "FR.5" (Fighter-Reconnaissance Mark 5, or "G-41H") variant first flew on 13 July 1949. This aircraft featured two cameras in the rear fuselage for on-track imaging, and a single camera in the nose for oblique imaging that could be repositioned by ground crews to shoot through one of three windows.

Unfortunately, the first flight of the FR.5 was also its last, as it broke up in the air during a low-level high-speed pass, killing the test pilot. However, the concept was not abandoned and would be revived later.

The "F.6 (G-41J)" never got off the drawing board. Some sources claim it was a swept-wing variant, others claim it incorporated features that would go into the F.8. However, the two-seat "T.7" (Trainer Mark 7, or "G-43") variant did go into production, and served usefully with the RAF and other air services for many years.

It featured a tandem two-seat cockpit with an antique-appearing "greenhouse" or "frame" canopy. As the Meteor was often the first jet operated by the air arms that purchased the type, orders often included a few T.7s for conversion training. 650 T.7s were built.


[6] METEOR F.8

* As improved jet fighters began to emerge in the years following the war, Gloster decided to perform a significant 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 (G-41K)". The first prototype was a modified F.4, followed by a true prototype that flew on 12 October 1948. Initial deliveries to the RAF were in August 1949.

The F.8 featured a fuselage stretch of 76 centimeters (30 inches), intended to shift the aircraft's center of gravity and eliminate the dead weight of ballast that had accumulated in earlier marks, which had reached a total of about 450 kilograms (1,000 pounds) in the F.4.

Evaluation of the stretched fuselage in the initial prototype gave positive results, except that as ammunition was expended the aircraft became tail-heavy and unstable around the pitch axis. However, by an odd stroke of luck, Gloster had developed a single-engine jet fighter designated the "G.42" that hadn't entered production, and fitting the tail of the G.42 to the modified F.4 cleared up the stability problem.

Given the modular design of the Meteor, fitting the new tail proved simple. It also made the new variant distinctively different from its predecessors. While the vertical tailplane of earlier Meteors was elliptical, resembling an asymmetric guitar pick, the new vertical tailplane had straight edges.

Another important change in the F.8 was, of course, still further uprated engines in the form of Derwent 8 engines with 16 kN (1,633 kg / 3,600 lb) thrust each. Other changes included structural strengthening, a Martin Baker ejection seat as evaluated earlier on the F.4, and a revised "blown" cockpit canopy that provided improved pilot visibility. The F.8 could carry two 450 kilogram (1,000 pound) bombs or sixteen rocket projectiles.

* The Meteor F.8 was the mainstay of RAF Fighter Command between 1950 and 1955, though it was increasingly outmatched by newer swept-wing fighters developed during this period, such as the US North American F-86 Sabre and the Soviet MiG-15. It was eventually replaced in RAF squadron service by the Hawker Hunter.

Although the Meteor may have been obsolescent in the 1950s, it served with distinction with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) during the Korean War in the ground-attack role. The RAF began receiving Meteor F.8s at the end of 1949, most of which were modified to carry a radio compass, with the antenna in a small dome on the aircraft's spine. The RAAF received 93 ex-RAF Meteor F.8s for combat service in Korea from 1951 through 1953.

The Meteor was used for escort duties at first, with the aircraft's initial combat mission taking place on 29 July. A month later, the Meteors mixed it up with MiG-15s and got the worst of it, with one Meteor lost and the pilot taken prisoner, and two others badly damaged. The Meteor seemed to be no match for the MiG-15, though Australian pilots protested that they might have done much better had they been trained for air-to-air combat rather than ground support, but by the end of 1951 the Meteor had been relegated to the ground-support role.

This was dangerous work, all the more so because a Meteor had to be held smooth and level on its firing run for its gyro-stabilized gunsight to be accurate, making the aircraft vulnerable to ground fire. 32 were lost in action. Despite the aircraft's general inferiority to the MiG-15, the Australians were able to score at least three "kills" against the Soviet fighter with the Meteor. After the war, the F.8s were sent home to Australia, to be replaced by Commonwealth CA-27 Sabres in the mid-1950s.

* A total of 1,183 F.8s were built in all by Gloster and Armstrong-Whitworth, with 23 ex-RAF aircraft supplied to Belgium, 60 new-build aircraft to Brazil, 20 new-build aircraft to Denmark, 12 ex-RAF aircraft to Egypt, 11 new-build aircraft to Israel, 5 ex-RAF aircraft to the Netherlands, and 12 new-build and 7 ex-RAF aircraft to Syria.

Fokker built 150 F.8s for the Dutch and 150 F.8s for the Belgians. Avions Fairey built 30 from kits supplied by Fokker and 37 from kits supplied by Gloster, with these aircraft going into Dutch service.

   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                11.3 meters         37 feet 2 inches
   length                  13.6 meters         44 feet 7 inches
   height                  3.96 meters         13 feet

   empty weight            4,850 kilograms     10,680 pounds
   loaded weight           7,120 kilograms     15,700 pounds

   maximum speed           960 KPH             600 MPH / 525 KT
   service ceiling         13,100 meters       43,000 feet
   range                   965 kilometers      600 MI / 525 NMI
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

* Two reconnaissance variants of the F.8 were also built. The "FR.9" (Fighter Reconnaissance 9, or "G-41L") retained the four 20 millimeter Hispano cannon, but had an extended nose to accommodate a camera that could be oriented on the ground to shoot through one of three windows. It could also carry an external tank under each wing and an external tank under the belly.

A total of 126 FR.9s were built and went into RAF service in the low-altitude reconnaissance role, with 12 of these aircraft later passed on to Ecuador, 7 passed on to Israel, and two passed on to Syria. RAF Meteor PR.9s saw extensive use in the 1956 Suez intervention, and Middle Eastern Meteors of various types saw intermittent combat through the 1950s.

The "PR.10 (G-41M)" was intended for the high-altitude reconnaissance role. It not only had the older long-span wing, it also had the older elliptical Meteor F.4 tail. Armament was deleted, and it was fitted both with a camera in the nose as with the FR.9 and wth two cameras in the rear fuselage for along-track imaging. The RAF received 59 PR.10s. None were exported.

The RAF also operated reconnaissance Meteors during security operations in Kenya, Aden, Cyprus, and Malaya through the 1950s.

* The F.8 proved popular as a test and trials aircraft. F.8s were used to test airborne radar for the Fireflash missile, midair refueling schemes, and engine fits. A heavily modified F.8 experimentally fitted with Armstrong-Siddeley Sapphire 2 engines set a world climb-rate record in August 1951. One test rig was fitted with the Armstrong-Siddeley Screamer rocket engine, fitted under the fuselage. Another was fitted with Rolls-Royce Soar mini-jet engines on the wingtips, while retaining its Derwents, making it the only four-engine Meteor.

One of the oddest test fits was built by Armstrong-Whitworth, and involved adding a second cockpit to a longer nose. This additional cockpit was intended to accommodate a pilot lying in a prone position on his stomach, in the belief that this posture might provide greater tolerance to gee forces. This testbed was first flown in February 1954, but the idea didn't pan out.

Martin Baker used three odd hybrids of T.7s with F.8 tails for ejection seat trials. They were informally given the designation "Meteor T.7 1/2". They provided many decades of fine and reliable service for Martin Baker, and at last notice were still in use.

Gloster also refitted an F.8 to a specialized close-support configuration, with wingtip tanks and belly stores pylons. This aircraft was known as the "Reaper" or "G.44", and could carry 24 rockets or up to four 450 kilogram (1,000 pound) bombs.

* A small number of F.8s were converted to a rudimentary target tug configuration and redesignated "Meteor F(TT).8". They were simply fitted with a target towing lug under the fuselage and could pull a target banner along. A number of T.7s and F.8s in foreign service were also used as target tugs in this fashion. In addition, some F.8s were put into service as advanced single-seat trainers, apparently with some small modifications, and designated unofficially as "Meteor T.8".

Following the use of Meteor F.4s converted to the U.15 target drone configuration, about 250 Meteor F.8s were converted to "U.16" target drones by Flight Refueling LTD, beginning in 1956. The last conversion was apparently in 1975. The Australians received similar conversions with some minor differences in equipment kit as the "U.21".

The U.16 / U.21 conversion was broadly similar to the U.15 conversion, with airframe reinforcement, wingtip camera pods, radio control while retaining piloted capability, and no cannons. However, the U.16 had a characteristic modified extended nose, the camera pods were slenderer, and it is unclear if it had flare dispensers. These machines remained in service into the 1990s, and a few may be flying yet.



* In January 1947, the Air Ministry issued the specification F.44/46 for a two-seat, twin-jet-engine, night / all-weather fighter to replace the de Havilland Mosquito. A number of companies responded to the request, but none of their proposals met the requirement.

Since there was still a need for a night fighter, Gloster suggested stretching the T.7 by 1.5 meters (five feet) to accommodate airborne-intercept (AI) radar in the nose. This was intended as an interim solution until the Gloster Javelin, which was then in design, was ready for service.

The proposal was accepted under the specification "F.24/48", but Gloster, having brought up the suggestion, was forced to admit that the company didn't have the resources to produce it. However, Armstrong-Whitworth, another member of the Hawker-Siddeley industrial group along with Gloster, had second-sourced the Meteor, and in 1949 Armstrong-Whitworth was given ownership of the project.

The first Meteor "NF.11" (Night Fighter Mark 11) or "G/47" prototype, a modified T.7, began flight tests in October 1949. The first true NF.11 prototype flew on 31 May 1950. The NF.11 retained the Derwent 8 engines of the F.8, but the four cannon were transferred from the nose to the wings, the wings were lengthened back to the original Meteor I span, and the longer nose accommodated AI.10 (US SCR-720) radar and a pressurized tandem cockpit. The cockpit featured a T.7 greenhouse canopy and a radar operator / navigator in the back seat.

The first production NF.11, with a proper Meteor F.8 tail, flew on 13 November 1950, and 307 production aircraft of the type were built. The Danes bought 11, the Belgians obtained 24 ex-RAF aircraft, somewhat surprisingly the French bought 41 used RAF NF.11s, and a single example was sent to Australia.

* The NF.11 was followed by the "NF.13" and "NF.12", in that order, with the reversal of the numeric sequence apparently due to the fact that the NF.13 revision was started later than the NF.12 but, being a more modest upgrade, was completed sooner. All the Meteor night fighter variants retained the "G.47" company designation.

In fact, the NF.13 was largely identical to the NF.11, except that it had a radio compass, cockpit cooling ducts, and other changes for tropical operation, and larger intakes to improve air mass flow to the engines, resulting in 45 kilograms (100 pounds) more thrust. The first NF.13 flew on 23 December 1952, and 40 were built.

The NF.12 featured Derwent 9 engines with 1,725 kilograms (3,800 pounds) thrust each, and the nose lengthened by 43 centimeters (17 inches) to accommodate improved American Westinghouse AN/APS-21 radar. The top half of the vertical tailplane was enlarged to compensate for the longer nose, giving the tailplane a slightly crooked appearance.

The first NF.12 flew on 21 April 1953, with 100 being completed. France obtained two for test purposes, and six each ex-RAF aircraft were provided to Egypt, Syria, and Israel.

* The "NF.14" was generally similar to the NF.12, but featured a "blown" clear-vision canopy to provide a much-improved view compared to the old framed canopy; improved US AN/APQ-43 radar and an even longer nose; yaw dampers to control "snaking"; and other lesser changes. 100 NF.14s were manufactured, and were the last Meteors built, with the very last of the breed delivered on 26 May 1955.

The Meteor night fighters remained in front-line RAF service until 1961. The total number of Meteor night-fighters built by Armstrong-Whitworth was 547.

   _____________________   _________________   _______________________
   spec                    metric              english
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

   wingspan                13.1 meters         43 feet
   length                  15.5 meters         51 feet 4 inches
   height                  4.2 meters          13 feet 11 inches

   empty weight            5,725 kilograms     12,620 pounds
   max loaded weight       9,625 kilograms     21,200 pounds

   maximum speed           587 KPH             930 MPH / 810 KT
   service ceiling         12,200 meters       40,000 feet
   range                   1,530 kilometers    950 MI / 825 NMI
   _____________________   _________________   _______________________

Some of the NF.14s were later converted to "NF(T).14" navigation trainers. Others were modified as target tugs, with a windmill-powered winch mounted inboard of the right engine, and were designated "TT.20". The TT.20s remained in service with the RAF at least into the 1970s.



* Gloster's single-engine jet fighter, the G.42, is worthwhile to discuss briefly here as its design, or at least the design of its tail, contributed to the development of the Meteor F.8 and later Meteor marks.

The G.42 was designed in response to the Air Ministry E.1/44 specification issued in early 1944, and Gloster was selected to build four prototypes. With the slowdown in aviation work after the end of the war, the first prototype wasn't completed until July 1947. This aircraft never flew, as it was involved in a traffic accident while being road-transported and was written off.

The second prototype was completed and first flew on 9 March 1948. It was of undistinguished appearance, of all-metal construction, a straight mid-mounted wing, engine inlets on the fuselage just in front of the wings, and tricycle landing gear. It was to be armed with four Hispano 20 millimeter cannon under the nose, with the capability of carrying a 450 kilogram (1,000 pound) bomb under each wing, or a total of eight rockets.

It was powered by a single Rolls-Royce Nene turbojet with 22.3 kN (2,270 kg / 6,000 lb) thrust. Wingspan was 11 meters (36 feet), length was 11.6 meters (38 feet), empty weight was 3.750 kilograms (8,260 pounds), and loaded weight was 5,200 kilograms (11,470 pounds).

A third prototype, with a modified tail, was built and flew in 1949, and a swept-wing version was considered under Air Ministry specification E.23/46, but by this time it was obvious the E.1/44 was no winner, and the fourth prototype was never built. The only legacy of the E.1/44 was its tail, which survived in the Meteor F.8.



* A total of about 3,500 Meteors were built in all, and the type served with ten air forces. The Meteor is noteworthy for its historical significance as the first Allied jet fighter to see service, as well as for its long service with the RAF and many other countries.

To be sure, it was obsolete by the 1950s and only remained in production and service while nothing better was available, but this was no fault of the design itself. It was a first-generation jet that continued to serve well into the era of second-generation jets that built on its experience. The Meteor itself still remained simple, clean, and appealing, as were many of the first-generation jets.

It appears that not only are a few Meteors are still flying, some are still in operational service as targets or hacks. However, I have no specifics on this matter. It is clear that a large number survive on static display, particularly as "gate guards" at air bases.

* Sources include:

The sources tend to contradict each other a little, particularly in terms of Meteor production quantities. As I had no real way to verify the numbers, I have to say is that the quantities cited in this document should not be accepted as indisputable fact.

* Revision history:

   v1.0   / 01 oct 00 / gvg
   v1.1.0 / 01 dec 02 / gvg / Cosmetic update.