Although the German Me-262 was the first jet to enter the war, it was the Gloster Meteor that was the first to be tested.
The prototype of the Gloster Meteor had its first test flight on March 5, 1943. About a year later, the jet entered service with the Royal Air Force and saw limited combat.
The Meteor proved an invaluable addition to the RAF and served with proud distinction throughout the opening years of the Cold War. The Meteor’s development was heavily reliant on its ground-breaking turbojet engines, pioneered by Frank Whittle. The Meteor was not a sophisticated aircraft in its aerodynamics, but proved to be a successful combat fighter.
A twin engine design with a high tailplane was selected. 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 first operational version of the Meteor, designated as the Meteor F.1. The dimensions of the standard Meteor F.1 were 12.57 m long with a span of 13.11 m, with an empty weight of 3.69 tons and a maximum takeoff weight of 6.25 tons. Later Meteor variants would see a large variety of changes from the initial Meteor F.1 introduced to service in 1944. Much attention was given to raising the aircraft’s top speed, often by improving the airframe’s aerodynamic qualities, incorporating the latest engine developments, and increasing the strength of the airframe.
The Meteor F.8, which emerged in the late 1940s, was considered to have substantially improved performance over prior variants. The F.8 was reportedly the most powerful single-seat aircraft flying in 1947, capable of ascending to 12,000 m within five minutes.
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 high-explosive rockets under the wings, outboard of the engines.
The Meteor saw limited action in the Second World War. Meteors of the Royal Australian Air Force fought in the Korean War. Several other operators such as Argentina, Egypt and Israel flew Meteors in later regional conflicts. Specialised variants of the Meteor were developed for use in photographic aerial reconnaissance and as night fighters.
The Meteor was also used for research and development purposes and to break several aviation records. On 7 November 1945, the first official airspeed record by a jet aircraft was set by a Meteor F.3 at 975 km/h. In 1946, this record was broken when a Meteor F.4 reached a speed of 991 km/h.
In the 1950s, the Meteor became increasingly obsolete as more nations introduced jet fighters, many of these newcomers having adopted a swept wing instead of the Meteor’s conventional straight wing; in RAF service, the Meteor was replaced by newer types such as the Hawker Hunter and Gloster Javelin.