What flashes through the night sky? Why, a Meteor, of course!

By: shortfinals

Jan 15 2011

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Category: animals, Aviation, British Isles, England, Great Britain, military, Museums, RAF, Royal Air Force, Second World War, warbird

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Focal Length:18mm
Shutter:1/0 sec
Camera:NIKON D40

The incredibly talented engineer, Group Captain Frank Whittle, (who eventually became Air Commodore Sir Frank Whittle, OM, KBE, CB, FRS, FRAeS) was responsible for the earliest jet engines produced in the UK through his company, Power Jets Ltd. It was a Whittle W.1 (rated for only 10 hours use) which propelled the Gloster-Whittle E.28/39 experimental aircraft to its first flight on 15th May, 1941, at RAF Cranwell, the home of the Royal Air Force College. It had been beaten into the air by a German experimental aircraft, the Heinkel He 178 on 27th August, 1939, just before the outbreak of World War Two.

The E.28/39, although designed to carry 4 x .303 Browning machineguns was never armed, and it was decided that Glosters would build the first British operational jet fighter. By this time (mid-1943) Whittle had become increasingly distressed at the snail’s pace of Power Jets industrial partner, the Rover Company, in bringing his designs to production status and ‘divorced’ Rover to join with the aero-engine giant, Rolls-Royce Ltd. The company’s superb compressor/supercharger specialist Stanley Hooker, (later Sir Stanley) soon became involved, and the result was the first jet engine built by Rolls-Royce , the RB.23 Welland (1700 lbs st), which became the initial engine type fitted to the new fighter from Gloster, the F.9/40.

It was obvious that a viable fighter would need the thrust of more than one of these first generation engines, and Gloster’s produced a handsome machine with a broad-chord, low wing of relatively short span and engine nacelles faired into the wing at roughly the mid-point. This allowed for a short, sturdy, levered tricycle undercarriage arrangement. Armament was to be the standard for British late-War fighters – 4 x 20mm Hispano cannon.

The aircraft was going to be called the Thunderbolt, but the Republic P-47 had already laid claim to that name, so a change was made to Meteor! The first Mk. 1 aircraft went to No. 616 (County of South Yorkshire) Squadron, Royal Auxiliary Air Force,  – motto ‘Nulla Rosa Sina Spina’ ‘No Rose Without A Thorn’ – which had been flying Spitfire Mk. VII aircraft. Within a few weeks they had achieved their first victories (after a move to RAF Manston) against fast-moving V-1 flying bombs. The first Meteor ‘kill’ (on 4 August 1944) was credited to Flying Officer ‘Dixie’ Dean, who used his wingtip to cause a V-1 to crash after his guns had failed.

Post-war, the RAF was rapidly reduced in size, with the disbanding of many squadrons. However, the Meteor (in its F.4 form), along with the DH Vampire, became one of the types used to usher in the ‘Jet Age’ to Fighter Command. The definative ‘day fighter’ version of the Meteor, and one that had great export success, (Denmark, Ecuador, Netherlands, Israel, Australia, Brazil, Syria, and Belgium) was the F.8, which was used with some success in the Korean War by the Royal Australian Air Force.

It seemed natural that a Meteor nightfighter would be built to replace the aging DH Mosquito, and the first version was the NF.11, which used parts of the twin-seat trainer, the T.7, and the larger tail and fuselage of the F.8, as well as the longer-span wings of the F.3. Above you can see an NF.12, which was powered by two Rolls-Royce Derwent Mk.9 engines of 3500 lbs st; it was longer than the F.11 and equipped with American-built APS-21 radar in a bulbous nose fairing. The development and production of all nightfighter versions was handed over to the Armstrong-Whitworth Company of Coventry, and they made many modifications including moving the 20mm cannon from the nose to the wings (which made for a poorer gun-platform, incidentally). The preserved aircraft shown above, WS692, is painted as ‘C’ of No. 72 Squadron, RAF, and is in superb condition, thanks to the Newark Air Museum, Nottinghamshire, U.K.

By the way, I would heartily recommend Sir Stanley Hooker’s autobiography, ‘Not Much Of An Engineer’, published by Airlife Ltd., (ISBN-10: 1853102857) a fascinating look at the life and work of one of the giants of British engineering.


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