Canadian Warplanes 6: Jets, Gloster Meteor
Gloster Meteor, RCAF
(RCAF Photo courtesy of the Shearwater Aviation Museum)
Gloster G.41D Meteor F Mk. III, RAF (Serial No. EE311), being flight tested in Canada, Oct 1945.
Meteor (Serial No. EE311) had a short life with the RCAF . It was initially assigned to the RCAF Test & Development Establishment in Sept 1945. On 29 June 1946, while in transit from the Winter Experimental Establishment at RCAF Station Namao, Alberta to RCAF Station Hamilton, Ontario the pilot, F/L Hugh MacKenzie, experienced poor weather and ran out of fuel due to a faulty belly tank. He ditched the Meteor in Helenbar Lake in northern Ontario. He remained with the aircraft in the remote area for 26 days, until he heard a motor boat and hiked to another lake where a fisherman brought him to safety. Although the lake where the Meteor ditched was shallow and the aircraft was in good shape, it was still written off. Today, the MacKenzie Hiking Trail around Mississagi Ontario Provincial Park is named for the RCAF pilot who against the odds survived for so long in the wilderness. (Aurelio Stagnaro)
Gloster Type G.41D Meteor Mk. III (2), (Serial No. EE311, EE361), Mk. IV (2), (Serial Nos. RA421, and VT196), T Mk. VII.
Gloster G.41D Meteor F Mk. III, RAF (Serial No. EE311), ready for flight testing in Canada, Oct 1945.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3198889)
Gloster G.41D Meteor F Mk. III, RCAF (Serial No. EE311), 6 Oct 1945. Winter Experimental Establishment (WEE) flight test pilots, with Jack Robert Ritch on the left, Everett L. Badoux centre, and William H. MacKenzie on the right.
In December 1945, EE311 was dismantled and shipped by rail to Edmonton for trials at the Winter Experimental Establishment (WEE). Rich, Baudoux and McKenzie accompanied it. There was a very gradual expansion of the circle of pilots who were checked out on it. Flight Lieutenant D.G.A.T. Cameron was reported as the pilot on 4 April 1946, and five more pilots flew it in May. As in Ottawa, the jet attracted many visitors; its first Edmonton flight was witnessed by local reporters. The WEE diary thereafter mentioned numerous trials, including “flame extinction tests” at various altitudes, when one engine would be shut down, then restarted. In its life at WEE, the aircraft flew 48 hours. EE311 came to an unfortunate end late in June 1946, when McKenzie was detailed to fly it from Edmonton to Hamilton for an air show in the presence of the minister of National Defence. An improvised external fuel tank was rigged to extend the range, but it failed to work. McKenzie ran out of fuel and ditched in Helenbar Lake, near Blind River, Ontario, in late June 1946. The RCAF believed at first that he had been lost, and on 15 July, the WEE diary noted that a “Committee of Adjustment [was] appointed to deal with the effects and affairs of Flight Lieutenant McKenzie.” Fortunately, he had survived and after camping in the bush for three weeks, he was rescued on 25 July and returned to jet test flying soon after. The RCAF found the crash site and the aircraft was recovered in surprisingly intact condition and removed.
Gloster Meteor Mk. III, RAF (Serial No, EE521).
Hugh A. Halliday wrote an article for Legion magazine, noting that in July 1944, the first Meteor Mk. Is were delivered to No. 616 Squadron, RAF. This unit included two members of the RCAF, flying officers William H. McKenzie and Jack Robert Ritch. The pilots of this squadron had flown Spitfires before converting, and had been assigned to twin-engine training on Oxford aircraft, unaware their training was leading to jet flight.
The pilots found the Meteor Mk. I had excellent cockpit visibility which was aided by a tricycle undercarriage and the absence of a piston engine up front. The pilots did not receive dual instruction. Basically, they taxied the Meteor for several minutes and then took off. F/O McKenzie recalled that the most difficult thing was to get accustomed to jet flight. “It was very quiet because you were up in front of the engines. All I could do was sit there looking at the holes where the props should have been, and thinking, ‘I see it, but I don’t believe it! What’s holding me up?’”
Gloster Meteor, RAF.
(IWM Photo, CL 3464)
Engine fitters at work on the Rolls-Royce Derwent jet-engine of a Gloster Meteor F Mk. III of No. 616 Squadron RAF at B156/Luneberg, Germany.
Gloster Meteor Mk. I (Serial No. EE227), coded YQ-Y, No. 616 Squadron, RAF.
(IWM Photo, CL 2922)
Gloster Meteor Mk. I (Serial No. EE227), coded YQ-Y, No. 616 Squadron, RAF, at Manston, Kent, 4 Jan 1945.
(IWM Photo, CL 2925)
Gloster Meteor Mk. I (Serial No. EE227), coded YQ-Y, No. 616 Squadron, RAF, at Manston, Kent, 4 Jan 1945.
Flying Spitfires and Meteors from Manston in the UK, the pilots of No. 616 Squadron entered the Battle of the Flying Bombs on 27 July 1944. A British pilot scored the first V-1 “kill” on 4 August, and by the end of the campaign the squadron had shot down 13 buzz bombs. F/O McKenzie destroyed one on 16 August, and F/O Ritch bagged another the next day. F/O McKenzie’s victory involved a dive from 3,000 to 1,000 feet on a V-1 travelling at some 360 miles per hour. He positioned himself 700 yards astern and 500 feet below the missile but first had to wait for another pilot flying a North American Mustang to attack, without result. He then closed to 400 yards and fired a four-second burst with 20-mm cannon. He observed strikes all over the V-1 which shed its starboard wing, rolled onto its back, and then exploded on the ground some eight miles southeast of Maidstone.
Messerschmitt Me 262A-1a Schwalbe, III EG2, White 10, Kurt Bell, Germany.
When the V-1s stopped coming, No. 616 Squadron was detailed to exercise with the USAAF Eighth Air Force whose bombers were meeting Me 262 jets. Although the Meteor was slower than its German counterpart, it nevertheless assisted in the formulation of tactics. Although faster than any other fighter, over 100 Me 262s were destroyed by P-51 Mustangs and P-47 Thunderbolts of the US 8th and 9th Air Force, and 20 were destroyed by Tempests and several more by Spitfires.
(IWM Photo, CL2936)
Gloster Meteor Mk. III, No. 616 Squadron, being serviced by groundcrew at Melsbroek, Belgium, 1945. The all-white finish used by the four F.3s sent to Belgium was to aid recognition by ground troops during familiarisation training before the operational F.3 aircraft arrived.
(IWM Photo, CL 2934)
Gloster Meteor Mk. III, Melsbroek (Serial No. EE239), coded YQ-Q, No. 616 Squadron, RAF, pushed to its dispersal point at B58/Melsbroek, Belgium, 2 Feb 1945. No. 616 Squadron was issued this improved version, the Meteor Mk. III, and moved to Belgium in January 1945. A flight of Meteors was detached from No. 616 Squadron to 2nd TAF to provide air defence against the Messerschmitt Me 262, being joined by the whole Squadron in March 1945. During the initial deployment, the Meteors were painted white to aid identification by other Allied aircraft. No. 616 Squadron suffered only two Meteor losses in a mid-air collision due to poor visibility. The biggest threat to the Meteor was being shot down by friendly fire, which is why they were painted white for recognition purposes.
The Meteors were used for defensive patrols, then attacks on road traffic, but encountered no enemy aircraft. A second Meteor squadron, No. 504 Squadron, RAF, operated on the Continent from March 1945 onwards. Four aircraft were detached to Melsbroek in Belgium. They later moved to Gilze-Rijen where they were joined with the rest of the squadron. Thereafter, they were limited to the air defense role so as not to be shot down in enemy-held territory. Four Meteors engaged Focke-Wulf Fw 190s, but were forced to break off after being intercepted by Spitfires and Hawker Tempests. On 2 May 1945, a single Meteor forced down a Fieseler Storch and then destroyed it on the ground. By the end of the war, Meteors had destroyed 46 German aircraft through ground attack.
Squadron Leader Dennis Barry (in cockpit) and other pilots of No. 616 Squadron RAF with a Gloster Meteor at Manston, Kent, January 1945.
Once hostilities had ended, several RCAF pilots, curious about the new machines and anxious to add aircraft types to their logbooks, took pains to fly a jet. For example, on July 12, 1945, Squadron Leader Donald C. “Chunky” Gordon escaped briefly from his command of No. 402 Sqdn. to log 45 minutes in a Meteor. Sqdn. Ldr. Walter W. Gilmour, attending the Empire Central Flying School in the summer of 1945, also flew Meteors as did Sqdn. Ldr. Edward B. Gale while attending the Empire Test Pilot School. He logged 95 minutes on Meteor I and Meteor III aircraft. Flying Officer B.C. “Buck” Kirlin squeezed in 30 minutes on a Meteor while attached to the Central Fighter School in the summer of 1945.
Squadron Leader William A. Waterton of Edmonton had enlisted in the Royal Air Force before the war and had served as a fighter pilot and instructor. In June 1946, he joined the RAF’s High Speed Flight which had been formed to regain the world’s speed record for Britain. More than pride was at stake; the British were trying to stake out an international market for their aircraft and were facing stiff challenges from the U.S., notably in airline sales. The High Speed Flight’s basic tool was the Meteor IV, although new engines pushed the airframe to its existing limits. On Sept. 7, 1946, fighting for control over a defective port aileron, Waterton made five timed runs in Meteor EE550 at an average speed of 614 miles per hour. Group Captain Edward Donaldson, who had lived briefly in Canada, averaged 616 miles per hour while flying EE549 a few minutes earlier. Momentarily, the two fastest men in the world were a British pilot with Canadian connections and a Canadian pilot with British connections.
Waterton had almost been disqualified from the attempt because of his Canadian birth. Royal Aero Club officials on hand to witness the record attempt suggested he could not be considered sufficiently “British” for purposes of tying an international trophy to the Union Jack. Waterton declared that he considered himself British—that his passport described him as British—and that if a Canadian named Lord Beaverbrook could organize wartime aircraft production, then this Canadian was good enough to fly them in any circumstances.
Authorities did not question his “Britishness” on Feb. 6, 1948. On that date, flying a Meteor IV, he established a world speed record achieved over a specific 100-kilometre closed course—542.9 miles per hour. He raised the world record a full 46 miles per hour over a mark previously held by Group Captain John Cunningham in a Vampire. At that time, however, records were swiftly broken. On Feb. 26, 1948, the prototype Supermarine Attacker raised the mark to 560.6 miles per hour.
Waterton eventually left the RAF to become Chief Test Pilot for Gloster Aircraft; he was loaned to Avro (Canada) for early testing of the CF-100, and along the way he had numerous hair’s breadth escapes. He received a George Medal in 1952 for sticking with the Gloster Javelin prototype when it appeared ready to kill him. He retired in 1954 and moved back to Canada.
Although Canadians had played no role in the early development of the jet propulsion, the country was keeping a watch on progress. As early as June 1942, Air Vice-Marshal Ernest Stedman, director general of air research for the RCAF, expressed interest in British jets. John H. Parkin at the National Research Council (NRC) recognized something significant was afoot, and when C.D. Howe, minister of Munitions and Supply, became involved, official Canadian involvement quickened. Late in 1942, three civilians representing the department of munitions and the NRC, travelled to England to investigate. This was followed in November 1943 by dispatch of eight RCAF technical officers and 12 non-commissioned officers to work alongside Britain’s Ministry of Aircraft Production. Canada’s initial contribution was to be the establishment of a cold weather facility to test aircraft and engines.
In June 1944, a Crown corporation, Turbo Research Limited, was established at Leaside, Ont., to conduct engine experimental and design work. A leading figure in Turbo Research was Dr. Winnett Boyd, an NRC scientist whose mentor in jet engines had been Frank Whittle himself. When Turbo Research was sold to A.V. Roe (Canada) Limited, Boyd became chief designer. His first engine, the Chinook, was bench tested but never actually flown. It was, however, the first step toward the famous Orenda engine which powered Canadian-built fighters throughout the 1950s and well into the 1960s.
Immediately after VE-Day, with wartime secrecy relaxed, world newspapers were agog at the new jet technology. Canadian papers were no different; there was much speculation as to when the first jets would appear here. They did not have long to wait. In August 1945, a Meteor III (EE311) was shipped to Montreal. McKenzie and Ritch were to fly it, along with Sqdn. Ldr. Everett L. Baudoux, a Canadian graduate of the Empire Test Pilot School. Once the jet had been taken out of its crate, reassembled and test flown, Baudoux flew it to Ottawa in 15 minutes. At the Test and Development Establishment, it became the centre of intense interest, visited by VIPs of all stripes. Indeed, its first flight in Ottawa, on Sept. 18, was a demonstration for Air Minister Colin Gibson and the air attaches of the United States, Russia, Norway, Belgium, France and Peru. On Oct. 23, the jet was flown for J.A.D. McCurdy, who had made the first flight in Canada in February 1909.
Spectators were always awed by the Meteor. Hugh Kemp, writing on the first Ottawa demonstration for the November 1945 issue of Canadian Aviation described how, on application of power, the engine noise changed from a whine to a roar. “It sounded like a huge blow-torch.” Acceleration was impressive, although the length of the takeoff run was also noted. Describing its speed, Kemp wrote, “My previous concept of speed was entirely violated.” However, it was the rate of climb that made the greatest impression. “The Meteor crossed the field almost on the deck and then pulled out slowly and headed upwards in an almost vertical climb. One second it was a life-sized aircraft flashing in front of us; and the next it was a small silver silhouette banking gracefully against a cloud.”
In December 1945, EE311 was dismantled and shipped by rail to Edmonton for trials at the Winter Experimental Establishment (WEE). Baudoux, McKenzie and Ritch accompanied it. Only gradually was there an expansion of the circle of pilots who were checked out on it. Flight Lieutenant D.G.A.T. Cameron was reported as the pilot on April 4, 1946, and five more pilots flew it in May. As in Ottawa, the jet attracted many visitors; its first Edmonton flight was witnessed by local reporters. The WEE diary thereafter mentioned numerous trials, including “flame extinction tests” at various altitudes, when one engine would be shut down, then restarted. In its life at WEE, the aircraft flew 48 hours.
A second Meteor, known as EE361, arrived in Edmonton in April 1946. On May 4, Baudoux and Ritch practiced formation flying. The next day they flew the two Meteors at an Edmonton air show. These were the first multiple flights by jets in Canada.
EE311 came to an unfortunate end. Late in June 1946, McKenzie was detailed to fly it from Edmonton to Hamilton for an air show in the presence of the minister of National Defence. An improvised external fuel tank was rigged to extend the range, but it failed to work. McKenzie ran out of fuel and ditched in Helen Bay Lake, near Blind River, Ont., in late June 1946. On July 15, the WEE diary noted, “Committee of Adjustment appointed to deal with the effects and affairs of Flight Lieutenant McKenzie.” Nevertheless, he had survived and for three weeks camped in the bush. He was finally rescued on July 25 and returned to jet test flying soon after.
Meteor EE361 continued the summer and winter trials begun with EE311. It was put through numerous tests, including those involving cockpit heating and emergency equipment. EE361 flew some 32 hours before it was damaged. By March 1947 it had been returned to England. A Meteor IV (RA421) was in Canada from October 1947 to November 1948, again for northern trials during which it logged 53 hours and included five air-firing sorties. Testing extended to the most mundane details. Not surprisingly, unfortunate things happened when temperatures fell to minus 35 degrees Celsius. Cockpit heaters were inadequate, cold engine starts almost impossible and the hood was difficult to open without special silicon oils. At extremely low temperatures (minus 49 degrees Celsius) the Perspex window and its aluminum frame contracted differently, causing the two hood components to separate from one another. Snow clearance was important at any time, but was especially difficult from the high tailplane, the horizontal airfoil at the tail of the aircraft.
One more Mark IV (VT196) came to Canada in July 1953. It participated in winter trials but from January 1954 onwards was used in developing the afterburner system for Canada’s Orenda engine. This enabled the aircraft to reach 20,000 feet in three minutes. VT196 went back to Britain in June 1955 where it was used in further experimental work until 1962.
Apart from two Meteors loaned to No. 421 Sqdn. whilst overseas in 1951, the type never flew with an operational RCAF unit. Nevertheless, numerous Canadian pilots had the opportunity to log Meteor time whilst on exchange duties with RAF squadrons and schools during the 1950s. Their impressions of late-model Meteors are described in Larry Milberry’s book Canada’s Air Forces on Exchange.
(Wendy Moore family photo)
Gloster G.41D Meteor F Mk. III, RAF (Serial No. EE311), Leaside, Ontario, ca 1945.
(Library and Archives Canada Photo, MIKAN No. 3584046)
Winter Experimental Test Establishment (WEE) flight Gloster Meteor (Serial No. EE311), looking weathered, inside a hangar at No. 6 RD at RCAF Station Trenton, Ontario. EE311 had just been recovered after being ditched by Bill MacKenzie into a lake where it sat in the water for 20-30 days. It was later placed on display at the CNE in Toronto with RCAF/HQ telling Bill to stay away from it! (Lee Walsh)
Gloster G.41D Meteor F Mk. III, RAF (Serial No. EE311).
(Ken Townend Photo)
Gloster G.41D Meteor F Mk. III, RAF (Serial No. EE311), Edmonton, Alberta.
Gloster Meteor T.7 (Serial No. WA740), RAF Celle, Germany, on loan to RCAF No. 421 Squadron, 1950.
(DND Photo via James Craik)
de Havilland DH.100 Vampire (Serial No. TG372), Gloster Meteor Mk. IV, RAF (Serial No. RA421), and North American P-51D Mustang Mk. IV, at the RCAF's Winter Experimental Establishment, Watson Lake, Yukon Territory, ca 1947.
Gloster Meteor F8, RAF (Serial No. NX660), in Canada for cold weather testing, CEPE, Namao, Alberta, ca 1953.