The Gloster Meteor was the first British jet fighter and the Allies’ first operational jet aircraft. The Meteor’s development was heavily reliant on its ground-breaking turbojet engines, developed by Sir Frank Whittle and his company, Power Jets Ltd. Development of the aircraft began in 1940, work on the engines had started in 1936. The Meteor first flew in 1943 and commenced operations on 27 July 1944 with 616 Squadron of the Royal Air Force (RAF). Nicknamed by pilots the “Meatbox”, although the Meteor was not an aerodynamically advanced aircraft, it proved to be a successful and effective combat fighter.

Several major variants of the Meteor were made to incorporate technological advances during the 1940s and 1950s. Thousands of Meteors were built to serve in the RAF and other air forces, and remained in use for several decades. The Meteor saw limited action in the Second World War, while Meteors of the Royal Australian Air Force provided a significant contribution to the Korean War and several other operators such as Argentina, Egypt and Israel also flew Meteors in regional conflicts. Specialised variants of the Meteor would also be developed to perform in the photo-reconnaissance and night fighter roles.

In the 1950s, the Meteor would become 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. As of 2013, two Meteors, WL419 and WA638, remain in active service with the Martin-Baker company as ejection seat testbeds; two further aircraft in the UK remain airworthy, a single Meteor in Australia is also flight-capable.

Meteors In Australian Service

The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) acquired 113 Meteors between 1946 and 1952, 94 of which were the F.8 variant. The first RAAF Meteor was a F.3 delivered for evaluation in June 1946.

Australia’s F.8s saw extensive service during the Korean War with No. 77 Squadron RAAF, part of British Commonwealth Forces Korea, and had personnel from other Commonwealth air forces attached to it. The squadron had arrived in Korea equipped with piston engine aircraft, the F-51D Mustangs. In order to match the threat posed by Communist MiG-15 jet fighters, it was decided to reequip the squadron with Meteors. Jet conversion training was conducted at Iwakuni, Japan, after which the squadron returned to the Korean theatre in April 1951 with about 30 Meteor F.8s and T.7s. The squadron moved to Kimpo Air Base in June, and was declared combat ready the following month. Other aircraft, such as the F-86 Sabre and the Hawker Hunter, were considered but were determined to be unavailable; the Meteor proved to be considerably inferior in combat against the MiG-15 in several respects, including speed and maneuverability at high altitude. On 29 July 1951, 77 Squadron began operating their Meteors on combat missions. The squadron had mainly been trained in the ground attack role, and had difficulties when assigned to bomber escort duty at sub optimum altitudes. On 29 August 1951, eight Meteors were on escort duty in “MiG Alley” when they were engaged by six MiG-15s; one Meteor was lost and two damaged, and 77 Squadron did not officially destroy any enemy aircraft on this occasion. On 27 October, the squadron achieved its first probable followed by two probables six days later. On 1 December, during a clash between 12 Meteors and some 40 MiG-15s, the squadron had its first two confirmed victories: Flying Officer Bruce Gogerly made the first kill; however, in the course of the engagement a total of four Meteors were also destroyed.

At the end of 1951, 77 Squadron and its Meteors were assigned to ground attack duties due to their favourable low-level performance and sturdy construction. In February 1952, over a thousand sorties were flown in the ground attack role; these sorties continued until May 1952, when 77 Squadron switched to fighter sweep operations. The last encounter between the Meteor and the MiG-15 was in March 1953, during which a Meteor piloted by Sergeant John Hale recorded a victory. By the end of the conflict, the squadron had flown 4,836 missions, destroying six MiG-15s, over 3,500 structures and some 1,500 vehicles. About 30 Meteors were lost to enemy action in Korea—the vast majority had been shot down by anti-aircraft fire while serving in a ground attack capacity.

In 1955, Australia began replacing the Meteor with the domestically produced CAC Sabre, relegating the type to training and secondary duties within the RAAF. A number of Meteors would be assigned to the Citizen Air Force, others were configured as pilotless drone aircraft and target towers. No. 75 Squadron RAAF was the last squadron to operate the Meteor; notably, it had operated a three-unit aerobatic team, named “The Meteorites”.