The innovative Gloster Meteor was Britain’s first jet fighter and the first operational jet fighter of the Second World War. The aircraft, which was designed by the Gloster Aircraft Company’s acclaimed chief designer, George Carter, first flew on 5 March 1943.
The Meteor came into operational service with RAF 616 Squadron on 27 July 1944. In all, 3,545 Meteors were manufactured.
Following Gloster’s acquisition by Hawker in 1934 the company’s chief designer, Henry Folland, chose to leave to establish his own business and as a result he was succeeded by Carter. It was during a visit to Gloster by Whittle that Carter’s interest in jet aircraft came alight and in 1940 he designed the Gloster Pioneer E28/39 specifically for Whittle’s new engine.
The Air Ministry believed that the Pioneer was underpowered as a fighter aircraft and that a suitable engine, with at least 2,000lbf, would be needed if the aircraft was to be a success in the short term. The Ministry asked Carter to put forward a proposal for a new aircraft that could meet the challenge and Carter produced a design for a twin-engined aircraft that was designated the F9/40. The aircraft was later named the Gloster Meteor.
The Meteor was an all-metal low-wing single-seater aircraft, with mid-mounted twin turbojets on the wings. In all, eight prototypes of the Gloster Meteor were built. The fifth, DG206, was fitted with two de Havilland Halford H1 engines due to problems with the Whittle W2 and it was this aircraft that was the first to take to the air. The first Meteor to fly with a Whittle engine was DG205/G, which its maiden flight on 12 June 1943. The Meteor F1 variant took off for the first time on 12 January 1944 from Moreton Valence and the first twenty aircraft were fitted with 1,700lbf Rolls-Royce Welland turbojet engines that were based upon the Whittle W2 design.
The Meteor first saw action during the Second World War on 27 July 1944 with the RAF’s first jet combat sortie being fought against the German V-1 flying bomb. The first confirmed victory against the V-1s was on 4 August 1944, with thirteen flying bombs destroyed by the end of the war.
On 7 November 1944 Group Captain HJ Wilson achieved the first officially confirmed speed record for a jet aircraft, reaching a maximum speed of 606.25mph in a F4 over Herne Bay in Kent. The aircraft was fitted with two 3,500lbf Rolls-Royce Derwent 5 turbojets. The following year Group Captain Edward Donaldson set a new world airspeed record, achieving 606mph in a Meteor F4 on 7 September 1946. Earlier, Wing Commander Roland Beamont, a former fighter pilot and then test pilot for the RAF, had flown the same aircraft beyond its normal safety limits and it is claimed achieved a top speed of 632mph, but this was not officially recorded. However, Beamont did enter the record books when on 26 August 1952 he made a double crossing of the Atlantic Ocean flying an English Electric Canberra B5 VX185 airliner from Aldergrove, now Belfast International Airport, to Gander in north-east Newfoundland, and then back to Aldergrove in 10 hours 3 minutes.
From Heroes and Landmarks of British Aviation by Richard Edwards.