I read recently on my way into work, that one of Britain’s oldest surviving flying jet aircraft, a Gloster Meteor, has taken to the skies again after a £500,000 restoration project, bringing the total of remaining airworthy Meteors to 5 worldwide.
It may surprise you to know that this year sees the 70th anniversary of the jet engine’s first active service in the RAF, as it was in 1941, that this small step towards supersonic flight was first taken.
The patents for a jet propelled engine were submitted in 1930 by the brilliant engineer Frank Whittle (like me, a Midlander – born Coventry 1907, d.1996) but it wasn’t until 9 years later, after years of financial hardship and rejection both from industry and the RAF, that he finally managed to convince people of the merits of his new turbo jet engine, and get a testing programme properly funded and an engine installed onto an airplane. Without doubt, the advent of WWII had much to do with the focusing of the Ministry of Defences collective mind.
The first true British jet powered aircraft was the rather officially named E28/39 (sometimes known as the Gloster Whittle). It was a single engined plane designed by George Carter for the Gloster Aircraft Company in 1939, solely to test Whittle’s the new engine.
In essence, other than strengthening to take the additional forces imposed by the more powerful jet, this plane differed very little from a standard propeller driven one, with the concept of swept back and delta wing forms typical of modern day jet fighters, still some years into the future. The new engine performed so well during test flights over the summer of 1941 however, that The MoD commissioned 300 of them. Despite the single, centrally located engine of the test plane, Whittle had always intended that the production plane would have two engines, one in each wing, increasing both thrust and manoeuvrability.
When it finally saw active service in June 1944, The Meteor proved to be a very successful aircraft, achieving and holding the subsonic airspeed record of 616mph for two years between 1945 and 1947. In all just short 0f 4000 Meteors were eventually built between 1944 and 1954 with the aircraft being flown by nearly 20 different air forces, and it wasn’t until the advent of the classic and infinitely superior Hawker Hunter in the mid 1950′s, that the Meteor began to be phased out.