The Meteor was born in 1940 when, following some years of jet engine development led by Frank Whittle, the Air Ministry issued its request for an operational turbojet powered aircraft. It was Gloster’s chief engineer, George Carter, who proposed a twin-engine aircraft. Twelve prototypes were ordered in February 1941 – initially designated the Thunderbolt, the aircraft’s name was changed in 1942 to Meteor in order to preclude confusion with the new Republic P-47.
The first Meteor (the fifth prototype), flew on 5th March 1943 and the first production aircraft, the F1, on 12th January 1944. The Mk 1, armed with 4 x 20mm Hispano cannon, entered RAF service in June 1944 with No 616 Squadron and was immediately pressed into service against the V-1 flying bomb; it was the first British jet fighter and the only allied jet fighter to see service in the Second World War. At the end of 1944, the F1s were replaced with the more highly-powered F3 version.
The F4, powered by Derwent engines, first flew in the summer of 1945 shortly after VE Day. In the aftermath of war, the RAF re-worked several of these aircraft, with a reduction in wingspan being perhaps the main feature. The High Speed Flight was established at RAF Tangmere, and it was on 7 September 1946, exactly 60 years ago, that Gp Capt Teddy Donaldson took off in Meteor EE549 from Tangmere to set a new world air speed record of 616 mph.
The tandem-seat T7 trainer followed, and then came the F8 which first flew in 1948 and, equipped with the more powerful Derwent 8 engines, became the mainstay of Fighter Command through to 1955 when it was progressively replaced by the Hawker Hunter. The F8 also saw service with No 77 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force in Korea. It had some initial success against the superior Mig-15 in air-to-air combat but after six months (and the loss of four aircraft in a single day) was transferred to the ground attack role. A total of 1550 F8s were built.
The Meteor NF11 to NF14 series of night/all-weather fighters was based on the T7, with an extended nose to accommodate its AI radar, and introduced into service as an interim measure pending the arrival of the Gloster Javelin. The first NF11s entered service in the early 1950s and the night fighter versions remained on the RAF front line until 1961.
Almost 4000 Meteors were built in total. In addition to the RAF, the aircraft also saw service with the RAAF as already mentioned and the air forces of Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, France, Israel, New Zealand, Sweden, Syria and The Netherlands.
Tangmere Museum’s Meteor F8 (WA829) served on No245 Squadron as one of the 16 Meteor F8s modified to undertake flight-refuelling trials. Donaldson’s record-breaking Meteor F4 (EE549) is currently on loan from the RAF Museum by courtesy of the Trustees.