Tag Archives: Gloster Meteor

George Norman Hancock, Old Nottinghamian (3)

As we saw last time, George Norman Hancock was killed on March 31st 1954. At the time he was working with the Ministry of Supply as the Senior Air Force Representative to the Controller of Guided Weapons and Electronics in the Ministry of Supply. He was flying a Gloster Meteor F8 with the serial number WH312:

The first jet fighter built by the British, the Meteor would eventually be produced in the thousands and be used by at least 15 other countries. Its shape was not as impressive as the Messerschmitt Me 262 but it was relatively successful and state-of-the–art, until aircraft like the Mig-15 and the F-86 Sabre came along. As somebody once wrote, it was “not a sophisticated aircraft in its aerodynamics, but proved to be a successful combat fighter.” The Meteor had two Rolls-Royce Derwent turbojets and could reach 600 mph and 43,000 feet with a range of 600 miles. It was armed with four 20 mm Hispano cannons and could also carry various combinations of rockets on the wings:

Norman was flying a Meteor F8 which seems to have been a distinct improvement on the F4. It had a longer fuselage, carried more fuel and had an improved tail shape and an ejection seat as standard.

Norman had taken off at 14:30 from Farnborough for what is called a familiarisation flight, which means that he was just making sure that he could fly the plane and knew what it could do and what it couldn’t do. In case of problems, this is often carried out at altitude and apparently Norman had been flying around at about 36,000 feet without any dramas whatsoever. As he returned to land at Farnborough, though, he reported that one of the engines was acting up. Around 15:14, he radioed the Farnborough Control Tower with the words, “This is Wicker 98. Downwind on one” which means that one engine was now not working at all. “Wicker 98” was his call-sign. Apparently the Control Tower asked him if this was just a practice but when he replied in the negative, they scrambled all the crash and rescue vehicles out onto the runway.

As it drew close to Farnborough witnesses saw the Meteor, at first, flying apparently quite normally until it began to plunge down towards Runway 25. The Meteor’s port wing seemed to lose its lift because of the loss in power of the stricken engine and the aircraft began to descend inexorably towards 400 feet and lower. Poor George had lost power and he had therefore lost lift. A catastrophic combination.
The aircraft was now only just clearing the tree tops and then sank so close to the ground that George clipped the cowshed of Mytchett Farm at Frimley Green and then brushed the adjacent roof of a garage. The Meteor performed a cartwheel and hit the ground:

It exploded in a fireball of aviation fuel and broke up into thousands of pieces:

Poor George must have been killed in a split second and hopefully, he didn’t realise what was happening. In the fiery aftermath, both buildings and up to six vehicles were destroyed.

George’s will produced one or two interesting footnotes. At the time of his death, he was living at The Old Manor House, West End, Beeston. Beeston is to the south west of Nottingham and West End is between the Police Station on Chilwell Road and the Recreation Ground and Bandstand on Queens Road. The Old Manor House, is reckoned to be the oldest surviving house in Beeston. Nowadays, it is a Grade II listed building and is currently used as a dance studio:

George left £10,751 and his estate was administered by his sister Grace, who never married.

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the Gloster Meteor at Hendon (2)

Last time I was talking about my visit to RAF Hendon where I saw the Messerschmitt Me 262, and I also saw the first RAF jet fighter, the Gloster Meteor F8. I ended the post by saying what the Meteor’s good points were:

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Set against the positives of the Meteor, though, is its dreadful safety record which soon led to the new jet fighter being called “The Meatbox”.

Almost 900 were lost by the RAF, the peak year being 1953 with 145 crashes:

Factors to blame were apparently poor brakes, the landing gear, completely different flying characteristics from piston engined aircraft, a flight endurance of less than 60 minutes which caused pilots to run out of fuel and lots of difficulties when only one engine was working. Even with two engines, response times were very sluggish. To add to the list, when pilots in those days were taught how to fly on one engine, the other engine was switched off completely so, to quote the forum where I found it, “you had no chance if you fouled it up”. The aircraft also apparently had a nasty habit of diving straight into the ground when any flap or the undercarriage was lowered when the wing mounted airbrakes were out. There were no ejection seats in early aircraft and it was therefore very difficult to bale out of, although it was extremely easy to hit the tail on the way out. The foreign air forces had the same kind of difficulties. Here is a Belgian crash:

According to one account I found, the Coroner at Darlington actually subpoenaed the commander of the local base to make him come and explain the steadily increasing size of the RAF section of the municipal cemetery. No problem for the commander. All he needed to do was to invoke the Official Secrets Act and it was problem solved. At least one student pilot on every course was being killed. No 74 Squadron had three killed in as many months:

In “The Meteor Boys” by Steve Bond there is an account by a prospective young pilot of his going on a course to learn to fly Meteors at RAF Driffield. He went to a funeral on his first Thursday and then to another the following Monday, and a third on the following Thursday.
In foreign service in the Netherlands, the Meteor was the second most dangerous jet aircraft they ever had with almost 36 crashes in every 100,000 hours of flying. (And the winner is…… the F-84 Thunderjet with almost 56 crashes per 100K hours):


Perhaps we should put these figures for the Meteor in RAF service in context, though. One forum I came across said that in 1953 the RAF lost 486 aircraft with 334 fatalities. The other years of the 1950s are believed to be 1950 : 380 aircraft lost and 238 fatalities, 1951 : 490 aircraft lost and 280 fatalities, 1952 : 507 aircraft lost and 318 fatalities, 1954 : 452 aircraft lost and 283 fatalities, 1955 : 305 aircraft lost and 182 fatalities, 1956 : 270 aircraft lost and 150 fatalities, 1957 : 233 aircraft lost and 139 fatalities, 1958 : 128 aircraft lost and 87 fatalities and 1959 : 102 aircraft lost and 59 fatalities

If my trusty calculator is correct, that makes 3,353 aircraft lost and 2,070 young men killed. My quick mental arithmetic says that you had, therefore, a 61.73575902177% chance of a premature death if anything went wrong with your 1950s RAF aircraft.

It must have been this kind of situation that provoked Prime Minister Winston Churchill to ask the Air Minister “Is the RAF training or killing its pilots?” The Air Minister told Churchill not to worry as these kind of figures were merely par for the course.
None of this takes away from the Meteor, though, the honour of being the first ever British jet fighter:

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My Dad came across a Gloster Meteor once:

“one day in late 1944, everybody was in the mess at Lossiemouth, eating their lunch and drinking their cups of tea. Suddenly the door was flung open, and a very excited young man came in shouting “Quick ! Quick ! Come outside and see this ! There’s a crate out here without any props ! ”

And sure enough, outside the mess hall, on the runway, stood one of the RAF’s first jet aircraft, a Gloster Meteor, a fighter plane which did not have any propellers. The mechanics could not believe that the strange aircraft would even be capable of flight. But then they realised…..

“ No more prop changes ! ”

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the Gloster Meteor at Hendon (1)

On the very same visit to RAF Hendon when I saw the Messerschmitt Me 262, I also saw the first RAF jet fighter, the Gloster Meteor F8:

To be honest, compared to the German thoroughbred, the Meteor looked a bit of a tub, to say the least:

On the other hand, the engines were lots better than the German ones and eventually the Meteor would be purchased by Australia, Argentina, Belgium, Biafra, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Ecuador, Egypt, France, West Germany, Israel, the Netherlands, New Zealand, South Africa, Syria and the United States. Here are aircraft from Argentina, Belgium and Brazil :

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Having been initially negative about the Meteor, it is only fair to say that in the in-service trials between the Meteor and the propeller driven Hawker Tempest, the Meteor was judged the winner on all counts, except, conceivably, manœuvrability. Pilots of propeller driven aircraft often said that the Meteor was “exciting to fly”. Norman Tebbit, the politician and ex-RAF pilot, said of the Meteor:

“Get airborne, up with the wheels, hold it low until you were about 380 knots, pull it up and she would go up, well we thought then, like a rocket”.

The first Meteors to see action were with 616 Squadron who began by chasing V1 flying bombs over south eastern England from July 27th 1944 onwards. In early 1945, they moved out to Belgium and then Holland, carrying out armed reconnaissance and ground attack sorties but without meeting any Me 262s. The Meteors were painted all white to avoid friendly fire issues:

After the war, the Meteor came into contact with the Soviet Mig-15 both in Korea and in the Israel-Egypt war in the mid-1950s. It was found to be lacking in many respects.

More on the Meteor’s shortcomings next time.

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