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Gloster Meteor F 4 VT340 Fairey Ringway 21 07 55 edited-2

Operational RAF Meteor F.4 in July 1955

The Gloster Meteor was the first British jet fighter and the Allies' first operational jet aircraft. The Meteor's development was heavily reliant on its ground-breaking turbojet engines, developed by Sir Frank Whittle and his company, Power Jets Ltd. Development of the aircraft began in 1940, work on the engines had started in 1936. The Meteor first flew in 1943 and commenced operations on 27 July 1944 with 616 Squadron of the Royal Air Force (RAF). Nicknamed the "Meatbox" by pilots, the Meteor was not an aerodynamically advanced aircraft, but it proved to be a successful and effective combat fighter.


Design and DevelopmentEdit

OriginsEdit

The development of the turbojet-powered Gloster Meteor was a collaboration between the Gloster Aircraft Company and Sir Frank Whittle's firm, Power Jets Ltd. Frank Whittle formed Power Jets Ltd in March 1936 to develop his ideas of jet propulsion, Whittle himself serving as the company's chief engineer, outside of his duties as an RAF flying officer. For several years, attracting financial backers and aviation firms prepared to take on Whittle's radical ideas was difficult; in 1931, Armstrong-Siddeley had evaluated and rejected Whittle's proposal, finding it to be technically sound but at the limits of engineering ability. Securing funding was a persistently worrying issue throughout the early development of the engine. The first Whittle prototype jet engine, the Power Jets WU, began running trials in early 1937; shortly afterwards, both Sir Henry Tizard, chairman of the Aeronautical Research Committee, and the Air Ministry gave the project their support.

On 28 April 1939, Whittle made a visit to the premises of the Gloster Aircraft Company, where he met several key figures, such as George Carter, Gloster's chief designer. Carter took a keen interest in Whittle's project, particularly when he saw the operational Power Jets W.1 engine; Carter quickly made several rough proposals of various aircraft designs powered by the engine. Independently, Whittle had also been producing several proposals for a high altitude jet-powered bomber; following the start of the Second World War and the Battle for France, a greater national emphasis on fighter aircraft arose. Power Jets and Gloster quickly formed a mutual understanding around mid-1939.

In spite of ongoing infighting between Power Jets and several of its stakeholders, the Air Ministry contracted Gloster to manufacture a prototype aircraft powered by one of Whittle's new turbojet engines in late 1939. The single-engined proof-of-concept Gloster E28/39, the first British jet-powered aircraft, conducted its maiden flight on 15 May 1941, flown by Gloster's Chief Test Pilot, Flight Lieutenant Philip "Gerry" Sayer. The success of the smaller E.28/39 proved the viability of jet propulsion, and Gloster pressed ahead with designs for a production fighter aircraft. Due to the limited thrust available from early jet engines, it was decided that subsequent production aircraft would be powered by a pair of turbojet engines.

In 1940, for a "military load" of 1,500 lb (680 kg), the RAE had advised that work on an aircraft of 8,500 lb (3,900 kg) all-up weight, with a static thrust of 3,200 lb (14.2 kN) should be started, with an 11,000 lb (4,990 kg) design for the expected more powerful W.2 and axial engine designs. George Carter's calculations based on the RAE work and his own investigations was that a 8,700–9,000 lb (3,900–4,100 kg) aircraft with two or four 20 mm cannon and six 0.303 machine guns would have a top speed of 400-431 mph at sea level and 450-470 mph at 30,000 ft. In January 1941 Gloster were told by Beaverbrook that the twin jet fighter was of "unique importance" and they were to stop work on a night-fighter to F.18/40.

PrototypesEdit

DG202/G on display at the Royal Air Force Museum London in 2011. The yellow undersides were standard for RAF training and prototype aircraft of the periodIn August 1940, Carter presented Gloster's initial proposals for a twin-engined jet fighter with a nosewheel undercarriage. On 7 February 1941, Gloster received an order for twelve prototypes (later reduced to eight) under Specification F9/40. A letter of intent for the production of 300 of the new fighter, initially to be named Thunderbolt, was issued on 21 June 1941; to avoid confusion with the USAAF P-47 Thunderbolt, the aircraft's name was quickly changed to Meteor. Delays with getting type approval for the engines meant that although taxiing trials were carried out in 1942, it was not until the following year that any flights took place.

On 5 March 1943, the fifth prototype, serial DG206, powered by two de Havilland Halford H.1 engines owing to problems with the intended Power Jets W.2 engines, became the first Meteor to become airborne at RAF Cranwell, piloted by Michael Daunt. On the initial flight, an uncontrollable yawing motion was discovered, which led to a redesigned larger rudder; however, no difficulties had been attributed to the groundbreaking turbojet propulsion. Only two prototypes would fly with de Havilland engines due to the low flight endurance they were capable of providing. Before the first prototype aircraft had even undertaken its first flight, an extended order for 100 production-standard aircraft had already been placed by the RAF.

The first Whittle-engined aircraft, DG205/G, flew on 12 June 1943 (later crashing during takeoff on 27 April 1944) and was followed by DG202/G on 24 July. DG202/G was later used for deck handling tests aboard aircraft carrier HMS Pretoria Castle. DG203/G made its first flight on 9 November 1943, later becoming a ground instructional model. DG204/G, powered by Metrovick F.2 engines, first flew on 13 November 1943; DG204/G was lost in an accident on 4 January 1944, the cause believed to have been an engine compressor failure due to overspeed.

DG208/G made its debut on 20 January 1944, by which time the majority of design problems had been overcome and a production design had been approved. DG209/G was used as an engine testbed by Rolls-Royce, first flying on 18 April 1944. DG207/G was intended to be the basis for the Meteor F.2 with de Havilland engines, but it did not fly until 24 July 1945, at which time the Meteor 3 was in full production and de Havilland's attention was being redirected to the incoming de Havilland Vampire, thus the F.2 was cancelled.

Into productionEdit

On 12 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. Due to the F.1's similarity to the prototypes, they were frequently operated in the test program to progress British understanding of jet propulsion, the first aircraft not making their way to squadron service until July 1944. EE210/G would later be sent to the U.S. for evaluation, where it was first flown at Muroc Army Airfield on 15 April 1944.

While originally 300 F.1s had been ordered, the total produced had been cut down to just 20 aircraft as the follow-on orders had been converted to the more advanced marks of the Meteor instead. Some of the last major refinements to the Meteor's early design were trialed using this first production batch, and what would become the long-term design of the engine nacelles was introduced first upon EE211. EE215 would be the first Meteor to be fitted with guns; EE215 was also used in engine reheat trials, and would subsequently be converted to become the first two-seat Meteor. Due to the radical differences between jet-powered aircraft and those that preceded, a special Tactical Flight or T-Flight unit was established to prepare the Meteor for squadron service, led by Group Captain Hugh Joseph Wilson. The Tactical Flight was formed at Farnborough in May 1944, the first Meteors arriving the following month, upon which both tactical applications and limitations were extensively explored.

On 17 July 1944, the Meteor F.1 was cleared for service use; shortly afterwards, elements of the Tactical flight would be transferred along with their aircraft to operational RAF squadrons. The first deliveries to No. 616 Squadron RAF, the first operational squadron to receive the Meteor, began in July 1944. With the F.2 being eventually cancelled, the Meteor F.3 would become the immediate successor to the F.1 and would alleviate some of the shortcomings of the F.1.

Several Meteor F.3s would be converted into navalised Meteors, the adaptions included a strengthened undercarriage and arrestor hook; operational trials of the type took place aboard HMS Implacable, which included carrier landings and takeoffs.Performance of these naval prototype Meteors proved to be favorable, including takeoff performance, leading to further trials with a modified Meteor F.4 fitted with folding wings, a 'clipped wing' was also later adopted. The Meteor would enter service with the Royal Navy, but only as a land-based trainer, the Meteor T.7, to prepare pilots of the Fleet Air Arm for flying other jet aircraft such as the de Havilland Sea Vampire.

While various marks of Meteor had been introduced by 1948, they had remained fundamentally very similar to the prototypes of the Meteor; consequently, the performance of the Meteor F.4 was beginning to be eclipsed by entirely new jet designs. Thus, Gloster embarked on a major redesign programme to produce a new version of the Meteor with considerable performance increases, introducing new equipment and technologies to help the new aircraft meet the increasingly-demanding operational requirements of the RAF. Designated Meteor F.8, this upgraded variant was a highly potent fighter aircraft, forming the bulk of RAF Fighter Command between 1950 and 1955; the Meteor would continue to be widely operated by a number of nations into the 1960s.

Two F.4s later went to Rolls-Royce for experimental engine trials, RA435 being used for reheat testing, and RA491 being fitted with the Rolls-Royce Avon.

DesignEdit

OverviewEdit

Meteor F.8, May 1986The Meteor's construction was all-metal with a tricycle undercarriage and conventional low, straight wings with mid-mounted turbojets and a high-mounted tailplane clear of the jet exhaust. The design of the Meteor was relatively orthodox, despite the revolutionary turbojet propulsion it did not take advantage of many of the aerodynamic features that would be utilised on the jet fighters that rapidly followed in the Meteor's wake, such as swept wings. The type exhibited some of the problematic flying characteristics typical of 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) caused by airflow separation over the thick tail surfaces.

Structurally, the Meteor was constructed from several modular sections or separately produced units, the sections of each aircraft were the nose, forward fuselage, central section, rear fuselage and tail units, the wings were also built out of lengthwise sections. Several subcontractors would manufacture sections of the Meteor, Bristol Tramways produced the forward fuselage, while the Standard Motor Company manufactured the central fuselage and inner wing sections. The dimensions of the standard Meteor F.1 were 41 ft 3 in (12.58 m) long with a span of 43 ft 0 in (13.11 m), with an empty weight of 8,140 lb (3,823 kg) and a maximum takeoff weight of 13,795 lb (6,270 kg).The Meteor shared a similar basic configuration to its German equivalent, the Messerschmitt Me 262; incidents were reported of pilots on both sides mistaking one aircraft for the other.

EnginesEdit

The Meteor F.1 was powered by two Rolls-Royce Welland turbojet engines, which were manufactured by Rolls-Royce. The W.2B/23C engines produced 1,700 lbf (7.58 kN) of thrust each, giving the aircraft a maximum speed of 417 mph (670 km/h) at 3,000 m and a range of 1,006 miles (1,610 km). The acceleration rate of the engines was at the manual control of the pilot; rapid engine acceleration would frequently induce compressor stalls in early aircraft, the likely occurrence of compressor stalls was effectively eliminated with further design refinements of both jet engine and the Meteor itself. At high speeds, the Meteor had an unfortunate tendency to lose directional stability, often during unfavorable weather conditions, leading to a 'snaking' motion; this could be easily resolved by throttling back to reduce speed.

Based upon designs produced by Power Jets, Rolls-Royce produced more advanced and powerful turbojet engines for the Gloster, beyond improvements to the Welland engine, the Rolls-Royce Derwent engine adopted upon later marks of Meteors led to considerable performance increases. The Meteor's engines were considerably more practical than those of the German Me 262, having both a longer service life and being more efficient; unlike the Me 262, the engines were embedded into the wing rather than underslung. The Gloster Meteor embodied the advent of practical jet propulsion; in the type's service life, both military and civil aviation manufacturers would rapidly integrate turbine engines into their designs, favoring its advantages such as smoother running and greater power output.

PerformanceEdit

Meteor NF.11 flying with a Hawker Hunter T7A at Kemble Air Show 2009During development, skeptical elements of the Air Ministry had expected mature piston-powered aircraft types to exceed the capabilities of the Meteor in all regards except that of speed; thus, the performance of early Meteors was considered favorable for the interceptor mission, being capable of out-diving the majority of enemy aircraft.However, the conclusion of in-service trials held between the Meteor F.3. and the Hawker Tempest V was that the performance of the Meteor exceeded the Tempest in almost all respects and that, barring some maneouverability issues, the Meteor could be considered to be a capable all-round fighter. The Meteor F.8, which emerged in the late 1940s, was considered to have substantially improved performance over prior variants; the F.8 was reportedly the most powerful single-seat aircraft flying in 1947, capable of ascending to 40,000 feet within five minutes.

A total of 890 Meteors were lost in RAF service (145 of these crashes occurred in 1953 alone), resulting in the deaths of 450 pilots. Contributory factors in the number of crashes were the high fuel consumption and therefore a short flight endurance (less than one hour), causing pilots to run out of fuel, and difficult handling with one engine out due to the widely set engines. The casualty rate was exacerbated by the lack of ejection seats in early series Meteors; ejection seats would be fitted in the later F.8, FR.9, PR.10 and some experimental Meteors. The difficulty of bailing out of the Meteor has been noted by pilots during development, reporting several contributing design factors such as the limited size and relative position of the cockpit to the rest of the aircraft, and difficulty in using the two-lever jettisonable hood mechanism.

Specifications (Meteor F.8)Edit

General characteristicsEdit

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 44 ft 7 in (13.59 m)
  • Wingspan: 37 ft 2 in (11.32 m)
  • Height: 13 ft 0 in (3.96 m)
  • Wing area: 350 ft² (32.52 m²)
  • Empty weight: 10,684 lb (4,846 kg)
  • Loaded weight: 15,700 lb (7,121 kg)
  • Powerplant: 2 × Rolls-Royce Derwent 8 turbojets, 3,500 lbf (15.6 kN) each

Performance

  • Maximum Speed: 600 mph (522 knots, 965 km/h, Mach 0.82) at 10,000 ft (3,050 m)
  • Range: 600 mi (522 nmi, 965 km)
  • Service ceiling: 43,000 ft (13,100 m)
  • Rate of climb: 7,000 ft/min (35.6 m/s)
  • Wing loading: 44.9 lb/ft² (149 kg/m²)
  • Thrust/weight: 0.45
  • Time to altitude: 5.0 min to 30,000 ft (9,145 m)

Armament

VariantsEdit

Gloster F.9/40Edit

Prototypes, eight built:

Gloster Meteor F.9/40

  • DG202/G powered by two Rover W2B jet engines, first flown 24 July 1943.
  • DG203/G powered by two Power Jets W2/500 engines, first flown 9 November 1943.
  • DG204/G powered by two Metrovik F2 axial jet engines, unlike the other F.9/40s the engines were mounted under the wing, first flown 13 November 1943.
  • DG205/G powered by two Rover W2B/23 jet engines, first flown 12 June 1943.
  • DG206/G powered by two Halford H1 jet engines, the first to fly on 5 March 1943.
  • DG207/G powered by two Halford H1 jet engines, first flown 24 July 1945, became the prototype F.2 variant.
  • DG208/G powered by two Rover W2B/23 engines, first flown 20 January 1944.
  • DG209/G powered by two Rover W2B/27 engines, first flown 18 April 1944.

Meteor F.1

First production aircraft built between 1943 and 1944, 20 built.

Meteor F.1, Trent turboprop



One-off engine test bed, converted from former No. 616 Squadron RAF operational F.1 serial number EE227, for the Rolls-Royce Trent turboprop engine making it the world's first turboprop-powered aircraft. The undercarriage was lengthened to give ground clearance for the initial 7 ft 7 inch Rotoal airscrews. First flying in September 1945, it was not shown publicly until June 1946. It was found that separate controls for thrust and constant speed units required a lot of skill to manage. It was then flown with higher engine thrust and smaller propellers to enable development of a combined control system. The development programme was complete by 1948.

Meteor F.2

Alternative engined version with two Halford H1s – one of the F.9/40s was used as prototype and trials by de Haviland, did not enter production.

Meteor F.3

Derwent I powered, with sliding canopy. First flown 11 September 1944, 210 built (first 15 were Welland-powered).


Gloster Meteor F.4 Meteor F.4

Derwent 5 powered with strengthened fuselage, 489 built by Glosters and 46 by Armstrong Whitworth for the Royal Air Force. The F.4 was also exported to Argentina (50 aircraft), Belgium (48 aircraft), Denmark (20 aircraft), Egypt (12 aircraft), Netherlands (38 aircraft).

Meteor FR.5

One-off fighter reconnaissance version of the F.4. Fitted with vertical cameras in the nose instead of the four cannon and with obliques cameras in the fuselage. Destroyed on maiden flight, 15 June 1949.

Meteor F.6

Proposed swept-wing variant of the F.4, not built.

Meteor T.7

Two-seat trainer variant of the F.4, company prototype first flew 19 March 1948, 640 production aircraft for the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy (43) and 72 for export (Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, Egypt, France, Israel, Netherlands). Avions Fairey modified 20 Belgian Air Force F.4s to T.7 standard.

Meteor F.8

Gloster Meteor F.8

Greatly improved from the F.4. Longer fuselage, greater fuel capacity, standard ejection seat and modified tail (derived from the E.1/44). This variant was a prolific frontline fighter in RAF squadron service, 1950–54.

Meteor F.8 Prone Pilot

One-off experimental prone pilot F.8, WK935 modified by Armstrong Whitworth.

Meteor FR.9

Fighter armed reconnaissance version of the F.8, first flown 23 March 1950, 126 built by Glosters for the Royal Air Force. Former RAF aircraft were later sold to Ecuador, Israel and Syria.

Meteor PR.10

Photo reconnaissance version of the F.8, first flown 29 March 1950, 59 built for the Royal Air Force.

Meteor NF.11

Night Fighter variant with Airborne Interception (AI) radar designed and built by Armstrong Whitworth, three prototypes followed by 311 production aircraft for the Royal Air Force and 20 for the Royal Danish Air Force.

Meteor NF.12

Longer nosed version of the NF.11 with American AN/APS-21 radar, this was balanced by a slightly larger fin, first flown on 21 April 1953, 100 built by Armstrong Whitworth.

Meteor NF.13

Tropicalised version of the NF.11 to replace the Mosquito NF.36 for service with 39 Squadron in Malta and Cyprus and 219 Squadron based in Egypt. The first of 40 production aircraft built by Armstrong Whitworth was first flown on 21 December 1952. Former Royal Air Force aircraft were later sold to Egypt (6 aircraft), France (2 aircraft), Israel (6 aircraft) and Syria (6 aircraft).

Meteor NF.14

NF.11 with new two-piece blown canopy rather than the heavy-framed version. It also had a longer nose giving a length of 51 ft 4 in. Prototype modified from an NF.11 was first flown 23 October 1953 and was followed by 100 production aircraft built by Armstrong Whitworth for the Royal Air Force.

Meteor U.15

Target drone conversion of the F.4, 92 modified by Flight Refuelling Ltd.

Meteor U.16

Target drone conversion of the F.8, 108 modified by Flight Refuelling.

Meteor TT.20

The sole "prone pilot" experimental testbed.

Meteor TT.20 target tug of the Royal Navy in 1967

High speed target towing conversion of the NF.11 for the Royal Navy by Armstrong Whitworth, 20 former Royal Air Force NF.11s were modified. Four additional conversions of four NF.11s of Royal Danish Air Force, after conversion these were flown by civil operators on behalf of the Danish military.

Meteor U.21

Target drone conversion of the F.8 for the Royal Australian Air Force by Flight Refuelling, some aircraft modified in Australia by Fairey Aviation of Australasia using Flight Refueling supplied modification kits.

Ground Attack Fighter

Also known as the Reaper, it was a F.8 modified by Gloster as a private venture ground attack fighter. The modification allowed the carriage of external Rocket-Assisted Take-Off Gear (RATOG), added a ventral cannon and tip tanks. First flown 4 September 1950, only one was built.
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