Gloster (Armstrong Whitworth) Meteor Jet-Powered Fighter / Fighter-Bomber Aircraft
The Gloster Meteor became the first operational British jet-powered fighter on July 27th, 1944 - this during World War 2.
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The Gloster Meteor became Britain's first operational jet-powered fighter aircraft. It reached operational status in the latter years of World War 2 and saw limited action in the conflict though it never faced off against any of the touted German jet projects in service at the same time. The Meteor proved an invaluable addition to the RAF and served with proud distinction throughout the opening years of the Cold War.
Design of the Gloster Meteor fell to George Carter. Work began as early as 1940 with turbojet technology still in its relative infancy. In fact, Britain and Germany were at the forefront of the developing technology though other nations were also delving into the probability of jet-powered fighters by the end of the decade. Gloster Aircraft Company had already found some success with their Gloster E28/39 jet-powered endeavor and an upcoming Air Ministry contract secured Meteor development through Specification F9/40 (calling for a single-seat, jet-powered interceptor).
A twin engine design with a high tailplane was selected - the former decision being almost a necessity considering the low-powered output of early turbojets. The high tailplane served a functional role as well by keeping the horizontal tail planes out of reach of the engine exhaust. The resulting design was a single-seat, all-metal construction, straight-wing aircraft sporting a turbojet on each wing system. Wings were low-mounted on the fuselage with the engines housed inside streamlined nacelles. The cockpit position was allocated to the forward portion of the fuselage with good all-around views featuring a lightly-framed glass canopy. The aircraft was fitted with a conventional undercarriage made up of two main retractable landing gears (inboard of the engines) and a retractable nose landing gear (the latter retracting backwards). Overall, the aircraft had a very appealing external look about her, certainly ahead of the pack in design terms when compared to her German counterpart - the Messerschmitt Me 262 "Schwalbe". The British design was originally to have been dubbed "Thunderbolt" but the Republic P-47 Thunderbolt was already entrenched with this imposing name. As such, the name of "Meteor" was selected as the new aircrafts official designation.
The initial Meteor F9/40 prototype was fitted with two Whittle W.2B turbojet engines. These proved too low-powered for the airframe and only achieved 1,000lbs of thrust, accomplishing simple taxiing tests. A Halford H1-powered Meteor prototype (the fifth prototype) achieved first flight on March 5th, 1943. These Halford engines provided for 1,500lbs of thrust, enough to get the design airborne, and served as the basis for the future Goblin jet engine. Eight prototypes were eventually produced (though twelve were initially ordered) with the final engine selection becoming the Rolls-Royce-produced 1,700lb thrust W2B/23C Welland (Whittle W.2) series engine - the same powerplant fitted to the fourth Meteor prototype. One prototype crashed on April 1st, 1944 while another was lost on April 27th, 1944. A Meteor prototype was also trialed in carrier deck landings as a naval fighter. With the powerplant in place, production began with the Meteor F.Mk 1 model series.
In terms of armament, the Meteor was given a standard load of 4 x 20mm Hispano cannons. These systems were mounted two guns to a fuselage side. With the gradual move to include ground strikes as a part of the Meteor's forte, the aircraft was given the capability to field up to 16 x 3" high-explosive rockets under the wings, outboard of the engines.
Deliveries of the Meteor F.Mk 1 began on June 1st, 1944 with RAF squadron No.616 becoming the first British RAF group to receive the type (numbering 14 examples - some sources state 12), achieving operational status on July 12th, 1944. These Meteors replaced their Supermarine Spitfire VII piston-powered fighters. The Meteor saw limited combat action in the Second World War, more so as a solution to the German V-1 flying bomb menace, its speed proving a perfect remedy to the elusive qualities of the German rockets. High-performance P-47 Thunderbolts, Supermarine Spitifires and Hawker Tempests were also charged with the role. Meteors found some success in interception of these terror bombs though not often as intended - one such instance found a Meteor "tipping" a V-1 harmlessly off course after the aircraft's cannons had jammed (a common and reoccurring armament malfunction of early production Meteors). At least 13 V-1 flying bombs were intercepted by Meteor jet fighters in one month alone with a total of 14 V-1's accounted for. The first Meteor-versus-V-1 interception sortie occurred on July 27th, 1944. Both the arrival of the high-performance V-2 rocket and the fear of losing the prized Meteor technology to the Germans restricted any future use of the jet in the war for the time being. No.616 was disbanded in August of 1945, reforming again two years later with de Havilland Mosquitoes and Meteor aircraft (F.Mk 3, F.Mk 4 and F.Mk 8 fighter models) in its stables. The squadron was disbanded for good in 1957.
F.Mk 1's were powered by twin Rolls-Royce W.2B/23 Welland series turbojets producing 1,700lbf each. Maximum speed of 410 miles per hour was listed as was a range of 500 miles and a service ceiling of 34,000 feet. An excellent rate-of-climb of 2,155 feet per minute was possible with 30,000 feet being achieved in as little as 9 minutes.
Sources differ in terms of which aircraft - the Gloster Meteor or the Messerschmitt Me 262 - was the first jet-powered aircraft to achieve operational status. Some sources claim the Meteor beat its German counterpart by a matter of days while others plainly state the German jet was the first.
It should be noted that the Meteor design was not without issue. Not only were pilots (as may be expected) generally inexperienced in jet-powered flight - as training could only accomplish so much - but the relatively infant technology, widely-spaced and thirsty turbojet engines and directional instability encountered at high transonic speeds all played a role in setting the foundation for future British jet-powered flight (this resulting in an enlarged tail fin and rudder component). As with most other early jets, the Meteor perhaps served a greater purpose in advancing a technological cause than an operational one, similar in respects to the American Bell P-59 Airacomet and Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star, the British de Havilland Vampire and Soviet Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-9 - definitely strides in technology but generally outclassed by upcoming fighter designs.
Meteor F.Mk 3's appeared as the next major variant to enter operational service, replacing original production Mk 1 fighter models (the F.Mk 2 became a single engine test-bed example featuring a Rolls-Royce Trent turboprop engine). Mk 3 fighter aircraft were fitted with the more powerful Rolls-Royce Derwent I engines of 2,000lb thrust providing for improved range and performance while sporting a revised sliding canopy. These Meteors were received by No.616 Squadron beginning in December of 1944. 15 total squadrons ended up fielding the Mk 3 fighter.