The Oldest Meteor

Have I mentioned the Meteor before? I ought to look through the annals of this blog but I don’t honestly think I have. My friend Paul Bird the architect used to talk about form following function when we were students together, and to a certain extent the early jet aircraft were expressions of that philosophy I think. The meteor is another of those Iconic aircraft shapes which I associate with my childhood, or youth, and I do remember being excited when Airfix and Frog released their models of the F.3 and F.4 respectively.

(Above) White-painted Gloster Meteor F.3 EE239 ‘YQ-Q’, of No. 616 Squadron at B58/Melsbroek, Belgium. A flight of Meteors was detached from 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. Royal Air Force- 2nd Tactical Air Force, 1943-1945. http://media.iwm.org.uk/iwm/mediaLib//54/media-54754/large.jpg

The reason for this particular ramble is that my sister Hilary referred me to a UK news item about the retirement of an airworthy Meteor night-fighter at Bruntingthorpe over the weekend. I still haven’t worked out which one it is / was although there can’t be too many contenders. I have a feeling it must be NF.11 / TT.20 WM167 but I’ll be happy to be proved wrong.

I am struggling to remember if I’ve ever seen a Meteor flying around. I did take a photo of a very rusty example stored on the outer fringes of Duxford airfield in the early 80s. if my memory serves, this was either F.4 VT229 or F.4 VT260, both of which are preserved in the USA. There was a Javelin next to it, if I recall correctly.

So that got me thinking. Where are the oldest Meteors located? I know I’ve seen the prototype DG202/G at Cosford, and someone on Wikipedia is at great pains to point out it’s the prototype F9/40 and was never actually called a Meteor. OK, fair enough, but after that?

Gloster F9/40 prototype (can you call it a Meteor?) DG202/G on display at the RAF Museum London in November 2011 Photo by Nick-D CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) via Wikimedia Commons
  • F9/40 DG202/G, first prototype with the RAF Museum. Picture above
  • Meteor F.4 EE531, noted at the Midland Air Museum located at Coventry Airport near Baginton, Warwickshire. If you’re going to be strict about the F9/40, then this is the oldest complete production Meteor in the UK.
  • Meteor F.4 EE549 at the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum (on the site of the former RAF Tangmere) Chichester, W. Sussex. EE549 was the “Star Meteor” which set the world absolute speed record of 616 mph on 7 September 1946.

Argentina? I know that the Fuerza Aérea Argentina received a number of ex-RAF and newly built Meteors. It turns out several of them are preserved. Here’s a list of the older examples in the order of their former RAF serials, remixed from the Wikipedia page:

  • Meteor F.4 I-027, ex-EE527, Museo Regional Interfuerzas, Santa Romana, San Luis. Four digits senior to EE531 at Bagington, this then is the oldest complete production Meteor extant.
  • Meteor F.4 I-025, ex-EE532, displayed on plinth on the Avenue of the Air Force, outside the Escuela de Aviación Militar, Córdoba.
  • Meteor F.4 I-029, ex-EE537, being restored for the Museo Regional
  • Meteor F.4 I-019, ex-EE553, displayed on plinth at the Northern Roundabout of the Avenue Spinetto Santa Rosa, La Pampa. Painted as I-021, condition poor.
  • Meteor F.4 I-014, ex-EE575, displayed on plinth in Goya, Corrientes.
  • Meteor F.4 I-038, ex-EE587, Junin Aeroclub, Junin, Buenos Aires.
  • Meteor F.4 I-041, ex-EE586, Museo Nacional de Aeronáutica de Argentina, Morón, Buenos Aires.
  • Meteor F.4 I-031, ex-EE588, Liceo Aeronáutico Militar de Funes, Funes, Santa Fe. Ogden locates this aircraft at the Aeroclub Las Parerjas, Las Parjas.
Gloster Meteor F.4 C-041 (ex-RAF EE586) taken at the Museo Nacional de Aeronautica in Buenos Aires, Argentina, 2006 Photo by Francisco Infante via Wikimedia Commons
Gloster Meteor F.4 C-025 (ex-RAF EE532). Third oldest extant production Meteor displayed on plinth on the Avenue of the Air Force, outside the Escuela de Aviación Militar, Córdoba in 2012. (Arqueologia Aeronautica)

In the United States there are actually four Meteors as follows:

  • Actually airworthy is Meteor T.7 N13Q, ex-G-BWMF, ex-WA591 at the World Heritage Air Museum in Detroit, MI
  • Wouldn’t you know it. Kermit Weeks has Meteor F.4 N229VT, ex-VT229 under restoration or at least in storage at Fantasy of Flight, Polk City, FL.
  • Meteor F.4 VT260 – (I must dig out my photo) is at Planes of Fame in Chino, California. (Picture below)
  • Meteor NF.11/TT.20 WD592 is at the Air Force Flight Test Center Museum, Edwards Air Force Base, CA.
Gloster Meteor F.4 VT260 on display in the ‘Jet & Air Racers’ hangar at the Planes of Fame Museum, Chino, CA, USA. February 2016. Photo by Alan Wilson from Stilton, Peterborough, Cambs, UK. CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0) via Wikimedia Commons

We then come to the issue of bits of old Meteors. I tracked down a couple in the UK just as I thought I’d finished writing this article.

The Imperial War Museum has what it describes as a cockpit section of F.3 EE416. This aircraft was delivered to Martin-Baker in November 1945, and it was from EE416 that the very first live ejection test in the UK was carried out on 24 July 1946.

The Jet Age Museum in Gloucester has the cockpit and nose undercarriage leg of F.3 EE425 which was presented to the museum by the son of the former Chief test Pilot at Gloster Aircraft. https://jetagemuseum.org/meteor-f3-cockpit-ee425/

How about Australia? I came across a reference to Meteor F.3 EE427 was sent to Australia post war and re-serialled A77-1. Unsurprisingly it made the first flight of a jet aircraft in Australia, but was damaged in a heavy landing in Darwin in early 1947. (Written off 2/14/47 after heavy landing at Darwin, NT. Broken up 5/21/47. Struck off charge 5/11/49). From what I can gather only a few odd bits survive at the Darwin Aviation Museum, previously known as the Australian Aviation Heritage Centre. You can see some photos of the aircraft itself in complete and derelict state (and indeed the piece that’s on display in Darwin) at http://www.adf-serials.com.au/2a77.htm

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Gary’s Pictures

To say my friend Gary Allman is pretty good with a camera is like saying Yehudi Menuhin could play the fiddle a bit.

Standard J-1 at the NMUSAF, October 2018.
Photograph by Gary Allman – breakfastinamerica.me Used with permission

Gary visited the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Envious, moi? But of course. However, I knew he would bring back a number of terrific images and he has not disappointed.

I scooted through the Early Years gallery way too quickly when I was there in 2002, so some of his photos are a revelation especially in the light of recent studies.

The Standard J-1 pictured above was supposed to be a supplement or replacement for the JN-4 “Jenny,’ but the fact that the J-1 was more difficult to fly must have blighted its career as a primary trainer. According to the NMUSAF website this one has a 100hp Curtiss OXX-6 engine. They still made about a thousand of these types although a number were cancelled after the Armistice

Other items from the Early Years gallery are at: https://www.breakfastinamerica.me/2018/early-years-gallery/

In the Cold War gallery I was amused and interested to see the B-57 Canberra lurking behind the F-104 and F-106. I don’t remember seeing it before, but I was in complete sensory overload by the time I got into this area of the museum.

Cold War Gallery at the NMUSAF – October 2018
Photograph by Gary Allman – breakfastinamerica.me Used with permission

I had no idea, but now I know, the F-106 on display (58-0787) is the so-called “Cornfield Bomber” which landed sans pilot in a Montana field in February 1970. The trainee pilot had ejected after the aircraft went into a spin, and for whatever reason the force of his ejection caused the aircraft to right itself and make an uncontrolled soft landing in the field, which advantageously happened to be covered in snow. February in Montana? Yes, I would say snow cover would be quite likely. The aircraft was repaired and returned to service. The museum acquired the aircraft in 1986.

I just noticed by the way that the F-104C (56-914) in Gary’s pictures has roughly the same scheme and appearance as the example used in the Star trek episode “Tomorrow is Yesterday” which was the subject of a recent blog post.

Gary’s other images of the Cold War gallery can be found at https://www.breakfastinamerica.me/2018/cold-war-era-gallery/

I haven’t been to Dayton for more than 15 years and a few things have clearly changed. The new fourth hangar now houses the Presidential and research aircraft collection. This saves a bus ride with an armed guard across Wright-Patterson AFB which was a little edgy back in the day. A few of the odds and ends which I was telling Gary about before his visit seem to have been removed from display. Whether this is long-term or short term given the collection shuffling that occurred when Memphis Belle was installed is another question. I certainly enjoyed finding, and gibbering at, the tail of B-17G 42-97683 and the engine and other artifacts recovered from B-24D 41-24301 Lady Be Good when I was there. The Museum certainly looks much more spacious although Gary said that a number of artifacts were pretty crammed in there.

A certain B-17F 41-24485 Memphis Belle at the NMUSAF, October 2018
Photograph by Gary Allman – breakfastinamerica.me Used with permission

I think I came to my own conclusion about why the powers that be have Memphis Belle up on jacks in the flying position. I wonder if it’s because they don’t want a whole load of greasy fingerprints on their new restoration and so have out it mostly out of reach? I know that was something of an issue with the nose of the NASM’s B-26 Flak Bait, to the extent that there was some debate as to whether the bare spot which had been worn in the paintwork should be left alone in some future restoration, but at least I have an answer to satisfy myself. I will go and have a look to see if there is any news on the B-17G 42-32076 Shoo Shoo Shoo Baby which was displaced to make way for Memphis Belle

It was a very enjoyable experience looking at those photos. Sometime I hope to go back there again myself.

Gary’s other galleries from this visit are at:

A Round Tuit

It’s big, it’s heavy and it’s been this way for maybe 15 years. Testors F/A-18 Hornet. 

Well, it’s been a fun semester. So much fun that I didn’t write half the things I intended, well, not in here anyway.  The World History:  Military Aviation course at PSU was a lot of fun.  I gave my presentation on the TSR-2 on the very last day of dead week.  We had presentations on the B-24,  C-130, F4U Corsair and the Sopwith Camel from the other students. John Daley told us about the A6M2 Zero as well. We had a good time talking about the late James Stokesbury’s  book A Short History of Air Power and we had some frank discussions about errors, omissions and possible sub-editing.

As you may have gathered, inspired by all of this I did make a couple of models while I was on the course.   Not only the TSR-2 and B-24 but also an F-111, all in 1:144 scale.  The F-111 fitted with my narrative on the TSR-2 story quite well. One day I want to do a little more research on the fascinating political history of the TFX / F-111 and the number of times the Convair / General Dynamics plant in Fort Worth has been at the center of  some degree of controversy.

Emboldened by all this, I went to visit a site in the house which has been more or less undisturbed for quite a while.  This is the place where I put down the Testors F/A-18 Hornet in about 2003, thinking “I’ll get around to finishing it some day.”

I bought it in the Joplin branch of Hobby Lobby ages ago. It was on sale for a ridiculously small amount of money.  It’s big and it’s heavy, being mostly made of die-cast metal.  You can see from the kitchen scale picture it weighs two pounds and three quarters of an ounce (928.44714 grams) in its current state. I started putting it together and as you can see filled in some of the more egregious gaps in the nose.  And that was where it stopped. “Oh, I’ll get around to it.”  The human condition in a nutshell.

I have the box in which it came.  It’s empty. I use it to hold a few assembled models.  I do not seem to have any of the remaining bits. No ejector seat, no undercarriage doors, no underwing pylons, no arrestor hook, no fuel tanks or weapons (if there were any).  I think those pieces are in the house somewhere but I have no idea where.

The trouble is, I’d like to finish this thing.  I’d hate to discard it.  I have been looking for any kind of box, container, envelope that might contain these items but to no avail. 

My next thought was aftermarket accessories. I can certainly get a fairly nice ejector seat,  but undercarriage doors and pylons?   Someone was selling pylons a few years ago but not any more.  I could get a new wheel well detail set including the undercarriage doors but the surgery involved on this lump of metal is just too much.

I noticed on the Web that there is a much derided 1:48 Hornet kit by a Chinese (?) company called Kangnam, and the sub $15 price tag online makes me think seriously this might be a cheap way to get some or all of  the bits I want.  I can see a few risks in kit bashing at this level but the price tag of the whole kit taken against the total cost of aftermarket parts makes me think it just might be worth it.  I’d much rather adapt a few parts than try to make my own from scratch.   I can worry about aftermarket decals later. I was thinking of a USMC Desert Storm scheme simply to emphasize the mass of the thing but that’s for another time

If any of the readership out there has any thoughts on this I’d be very happy to hear from you.   If you happen to have a surplus 1:48 Hornet that we could haggle over, so much the better!

Scale

I’m doing a little bit of pictorial research for a forthcoming article, and riffling through Wikimedia Commons I found this. I think we have all seen the pictures of Stirlings towering over crews as they walk out to them, but this picture of a 149 Squadron Stirling brings home the sheer size of the RAF’s first four-engined bomber.  The serial is partially obscured,  but I think this is Austin-built W7462 being pushed out for service at (probably) RAF Lakenheath, The picture metadata gives the date as 31st December 1941. There is evidence of censorship on the image (under the belly of the aircraft,  in front of and above the crew members pushing on the port main wheel) so as to obscure any buildings in the background which might identify the base.

Short Stirling

Royal Air Force ground staff pushing a 149 Squadron Stirling Mk.I  W7462 “OJ-T” out for overhaul. (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

I searched the squadron codes and serial number, and found a little bit more information.  It would appear that W7462 met its end approximately a month after the picture was taken, probably in the early hours of 30th January 1942. The aircraft was returning to Lossiemouth, Scotland from an operational flight to Ofotfjord, Norway. On landing at Lossiemouth, the aircraft skidded on the icy runway and ran into a ditch, resulting the the collapse of the undercarriage. The aircraft was not repaired and is listed as a loss. There were, happily no fatalities.

The pilot of W7462 on this occasion was Flight Lieutenant R. W. .A Turtle, and the crew consisted of Pilot Officer D. L. Atkinson, Sergeant Collins, Sergeant Bowman, Sergeant J. D. Burnley, Sergeant Hanna, and Sergeant Smith.

Meanwhile, in Wyoming

plane-on-a-stick

Mick Quaal’s Beechcraft Twin Bonanza up a big pole by the side of I-90 in Wyoming.  – August 2017
(Picture by Glenda Kiger, used with permission)

Today my friend Glenda Kiger posted picture on Facebook (that’s it up above)  that caught my eye.  A yellow twin-engined aircraft up a very long pole apparently somewhere in Wyoming.

A quick Google search confirmed my first thought that it’s a Beechcraft Twin Bonanza. It may be a D50E model but the differences between the models are fairly small. I’m happy to accept it’s a D50E and move on.  The Twin Bonanza was first flown in 1949 and production began in 1951. The United States Army adopted the Twin Bonanza as the L-23 “Seminole” utility transport, purchasing 216 of the 994 that were built. (Wikipedia)

That pole, though, is obviously pretty big. The wingspan of a Twin Bonanza is 45 feet, fuselage length about 31 feet. Google and YouTube (and my Mark 1 eyeballs)  suggest the pole is 70 feet tall.  I was also interested in what appears to be some kind of device under the aircraft that might be a pivot, which would allow the aircraft to rotate with the wind, making it one heck of a weather vane.   Other posts on the web suggest that the propellers rotate freely in the wind.

The aircraft is apparently owned by Mick Quaal (hence the big “Q” on the side – you can see the rest of the name when you enlarge the picture) and is located to the east of Sundance, Wyoming, just off I-90. I had a trundle round in Google Earth to see if I could see it, but a 45-foot yellow dot in the vast Wyoming countryside didn’t stand out, sadly. Never mind, I shall try again another time.

There is also a rather nice YouTube video of the aircraft being hoisted into its current resting place.  An article in the Sundance Times (Wyoming) suggests the aircraft was put there in the summer of 2014.

Anyway, it’s something something nicely quirky for National Aviation Day here in the United States. Thanks Glenda!

OX-5

I had a couple of days off in Oklahoma recently,  and visited the Tulsa Air and Space Museum (and Planetarium)   which has changed considerably since I visited in 2000.  A lot of things change in seventeen years.   The museum has moved to a new building and has a lot of interesting exhibits.    I’ve  learned a couple of interesting snippets about Oklahoma’s aviation heritage which may not be new to my reader, but to which I hadn’t given much thought.  More of this will follow in other articles.

Curtiss OX-5 at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum

I wonder what stories this could tell.  Curtiss OX-5 at the Tulsa Air and Space Museum, Tulsa, OK – July 2017 (Robert Smith)

I love looking at the stories detailing the early years of aviation.  Tucked away in a quiet corner were the stories of people like Wiley Post and Duncan McIntyre. Also tucked away but neatly displayed was a Curtiss OX-5 engine.  I wasn’t going to write about it, but it’s occurred to me just to what extent the OX-5 made a considerable mark on the early years (some would say the golden age) of American aviation.  The OX-5  was an eight liter (500 Cubic Inch) V8 which first saw the light of day in 1910.  Its ancestors were V-twin motorcycle engines, but Curtiss moved into aircraft engines, and  the OX-5 was the first American aircraft engine put into mass production.  I was surprised to read that more than twelve thousand OX-5s were built.  One of its major uses at the outset was  powering Curtiss’ own  JN-4 “Jenny” trainer.

At the end of the First World War there was a considerable surplus of OX-5 engines,  and this made the OX-5 virtually the default choice for nascent American commercial aviation industry.  The Swallow of 1924 and the Travel Air 2000 (the gloriously nicknamed “Wichita Fokker” because of its perceived resemblance to the Fokker D.VII)  both used the OX-5 and both have surprisingly similar nose designs.    Douglas Corrigan’s 1929 Curtiss Robin  (see previous article) had an OX-5 engine when he bought it, and which he swapped for a more powerful Wright radial. One may speculate if he’d have succeeded crossing the Atlantic with an OX-5 powered Robin.

Then I wondered if I had any other OX-5 pictures, and yes, it seems I do.  When I went to visit the Kansas Aviation Museum in Wichita on a blistering June afternoon in 2015,  they had a shiny OX-5 in their exhibition.  Interestingly this one seems to have a little more of the ignition wiring in place, but not the exhaust pipe.

I’m sure there’s a story here too.  Curtiss OX-5 at the Kansas Aviation Museum, Wichita, June 2015

While we’re talking about nose shapes here’s the KAM’s Swallow looking lovely in June 2015 – complete with a rather lovely streamlined cowling covering the Curtiss powerplant inside.  Notice the slab-like radiator underneath.

Swallow Aircraft "Swallow"

The rather gorgeous OX-5-powered Swallow Aircraft “Swallow” at the Kansas Aviation Museum, Wichita, KS, photographed in in June 2015 (Robert Smith – Own Work)

And finally,  a picture (not mine) of the “Wichita Fokker”   – the Travel Air 2000,  also with an OX-5 engine. You can see why Howard Hughes wanted at least one example of the Travel Air when he was making Hell’s Angels.   Those balanced ailerons, and the fin/rudder shape are strongly reminiscent of the Fokker design.  With a Ranger engine installed,  the similarity was amazing, but that’s another story.   The nose lines of the Travel Air here are remarkably similar to the Swallow and the OX-powered Waco 9 of the same vintage.  Consider Buck Weaver (founder of Waco) and his Wichita connection with “Matty” Laird and Swallow,  and the coincidence is taken further still.  This is hardly surprising.  There are only a certain number of things you can do to make a streamlined cover for an OX-5.

Travel Air 2000 with OX engine

Travel Air 2000 with OX engine at the Historic Aircraft Restoration Museum, Dauster Field, Creve Coeur, Missouri, 2006.  By RuthAS (Own work) [CC BY 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

 

Developments in Japan

Many of my blog articles are borne from reading articles on the BBC News website, and this is the latest. On May 26th, Alexander Neill, (described as the Shangri-La Dialogue Senior Fellow at the IISS Asia) wrote an article entitled “Japan’s growing concern over China’s naval might” (http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-39918647). He described a couple of interesting developments in Japan’s Self-Defense forces, especially in the light of Japan’s relationship with China.

1. The JMSDF has an aircraft carrier? Well, not really. Well, maybe. JS Izumo is  officially classified by Japan as a helicopter destroyer. The Wikipedia article notes that the ship is as large as any aircraft carrier of the Second World War, but it’s called a destroyer because the Japanese constitution forbids the acquisition of offensive weapons.  It doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to see the Izumo embarking some kind of STO/VL aircraft even though the Japanese Self Defense Forces don’t have any just yet.

Helicopter Destroyer JS Izumo

JS Izumo (DDH-183) in December 2016
Kaijō Jieitai (海上自衛隊 / Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force) – http://www.mod.go.jp/msdf/formal/jmp/201612.html (CC BY 4.0)

2. Indigenous Maritime Patrol Aircraft?  The news of the Izumo was interesting,  but what also caught my attention was the reference to the Kawasaki P-1 Maritime patrol Aircraft – two of which were apparently demonstrated in the UK at the RIAT (Royal International Air Tattoo) in 2015.  it seems that Kawasaki thought it was worth putting in a bid to the UK Ministry of Defence  to supply the P-1 as a replacement for the Nimrod.  The Japanese bid was unsuccessful, however.  The UK is going to buy the Boeing P-8 Poseidon  instead.  The Poseidon is a patrol variant of the Boeing 737-800ER and has been in service for about 5 years in the US Navy. International customers so far consist of the Indian Navy,  Royal Australian Air Force,  Royal Air Force, and the Royal Norwegian Air Force. Several other countries have expressed an interest. Poseidon deliveries to the UK are supposed to commence in 2019.

Boeing P-8A Poseidon and Kawwasaki P-1

A U.S. Navy Boeing P-8A Poseidon next to a Kawasaki P-1 of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force
(US Navy – Public Domain)

The P-1 is a pretty interesting aircraft which Japanese officials have claimed is more capable, (but more expensive) than the P-8, having been purpose-built for the maritime patrol mission.  It is noteworthy for its pioneering use of a fly-by-light flight control system using fiber optic cables, which decrease electro-magnetic disturbances to its sensors  in comparison with fly-by-wire control systems, which are more electrically “noisy”.   Speaking as a dinosaur who thinks fly-by-wire was a huge advance over control cables, servos, and rods,  fly by light is a pretty amazing (albeit logical) application of fiber-optic technology.

All this technology needs to be seen against the increasing military posturing from Japan and China over territorial claims in the East and South China Sea, which are in themselves related to access to natural resources.  All progress comes at a cost,  and sadly some of the advances in flight and defense technology may be driven by a degree of rising tension between two nations.   We have certainly been in this situation before.