The Gloster Meteor F Mk.I was the first Allied jet aircraft to enter service during the Second World War, and the first production version of an aircraft that would remain in front line RAF service until 1961. In August 1941, early in the development process of the Meteor, the Air Ministry had placed an order for 300 Meteors, of which 200 were to be F Mk.Is, powered by Whittle engines and the rest to be F Mk.IIs, powered by the de Havilland H.1 engines. This order was modified twice. First, the F Mk.II had been cancelled, and the order changed to 300 F Mk.Is. The development of the Whittle engine then ran into problems, which resulted in a change of manufacturer, from Rover to Rolls-Royce, and a reduction in the size of the first contract in April 1943 from 300 aircraft to only 20. The remaining 280 aircraft from this first contract would eventually be produced as F Mk.IIIs and F Mk.IVs.
The twenty F Mk.Is were powered by two Rolls-Royce W.2B/23 Welland I engines, each providing 1,700lb of thrust. The first Meteor I, serial number EE210, made its maiden flight on 12 January 1944, and other than the engines was identical to the DG202 prototype. Over the next six months these aircraft spent much of their time contributing to the development progress.
A great deal of thought went into the service testing of the Meteor. In February 1943 Dr Roxbee Cox, the Deputy Director of Research and Development into Engines suggested creating a small flight for jet development duties, based at Moreton Valence, then being prepared for use as a jet base. In March this suggestion was overruled by the Controller of Research and Development, who decided that the Meteor should be tested by a dedicated flight of the A&AEE. This flight was given the designation T-Flight, (T for Tactical). T-Flight was formed at Farnborough in May 1944, under the command of Group Captain Hugh Joseph Wilson. Those F.Mk.Is not used for research and development purposes began to reach T-Flight in June 1944.
Wilson’s tests revealed that the Meteor F.Mk.I was suitable for service, but not an outstanding aircraft. It did not handle particularly well, a flaw that would eventually be eliminated in the post-war versions of the aircraft. Its top speed was no better than that offered by the latest piston engined fighters, but those aircraft tended to optimised for a particular altitude, with performance falling off above or below that height, while the Meteor’s speed was less sensitive to height.
On 17 July 1944 the Meteor F.Mk.I was cleared for Service use, at a maximum weight of 11,925lb, although its speed was limited to 400mph at altitudes below 15,000ft, or to 450mph below 8,000ft in calm air. One week later, on 23 July 1944, T-Flight, with its aircraft and pilots flew to Manston to join No.616 Squadron, the first squadron to receive the Meteor. Aircraft EE215 became the first Meteor to be armed with its four 20mm cannon.
The F Mk.I was not cleared for operations over the continent. Instead, when No.616 squadron entered combat on 27 July 1944, it was against the V-1 Flying Bomb. The first interception failed when the guns on Squadron Leader Watts’s aircraft jammed at the crucial moment, but the squadron did not have to wait long for its first successes, destroying two V-1s on 4 August 1944. The F Mk.I had a short service life, soon being replaced by the F Mk.III, with which No.616 moved to the continent.
Engine: Two Rolls-Royce W.2B/23 Welland I turbojets
Thrust: 1,600lb/ 7.1kN each
Gross Weight: 11,775lb
Maximum level speed at sea level: 411mph
Maximum level speed at 30,000ft: 446mph
Rate of climb at sea level: 2,155ft/min
Cruise Range at normal load: 530 miles
Armament: Four 20mm cannon in nose