RAPTOR pod too big for Typhoon

royal-air-force-panavia-tornado-gr-4-za404-raptor-pod

RAPTOR pod on centreline (commons.wikimedia)

As the RAF’s plans to finally phase out its Panavia Tornado GR.4 force in favour of the Eurofighter Typhoon progress ahead, details have emerged that one asset the Tornado has that will not be transferred over is the Tornado’s RAPTOR (Reconnaissance Airborne Pod for TORnado) pod. RAPTOR is a stand-off electro-optical and Infrared long-range oblique-photograpic reconnaissance pod which is capable of producing high-resolution images and then transmitting them via a real-time data-link to image analysts at a ground station. The pod entered service in 2001 and has seen valuable use over Iraq during Operation Telic and continues to be used in operations against Daesh-ISIS.

However, the RAPTOR pod has proven too heavy and too large to fit on the optimum centerline station of the Typhoon; the undercarriage doors are in the way. This has meant that the pod will now have to be retired with the Tornado force but the capabilities it offers may not be lost with the Typhoon. UTA Aerospace Systems (UTAS) has proposed adapting the Typhoon’s centerline fuel tank to carry an improved version of the RAPTOR’s camera and datalink equipment. Christened Fast Jet Pod 2 (FJP2), it could alternatively house the tactical synthetic aperture radar (TacSAR) that UTAS announced was being jointly developed with Leonardo (then Selex Galileo) at the 2014 Farnborough airshow.

The question remains however; how important is manned aerial reconnaissance to the British military in the 21st century? The British armed forces have recently made great strides towards increasing their unmanned tactical reconnaissance and strike assets with the Royal Navy having just completed possibly the most comprehensive unmanned systems exercise in the world namely Unmanned Warrior 2016.

Unmanned systems have all the capability advantages of a pod such as RAPTOR carried by a manned aircraft but has the added advantage of eliminating the risk to aircrew. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones have proven themselves in the fight against global terrorism but in a modern conflict where there would be hostile air activity they are exceptionally vulnerable to interception. On December 23rd 2002, an Iraqi MiG-25 shot down a US RQ-1 Predator drone which reportedly opened fire on the MiG with a Stinger missile but failed to hit it. Proponents of manned reconnaissance platforms claim that an aircraft such as Typhoon has a greater chance of defending itself in the face of a dense threat environment and can also carry weapons to immediately attack targets of opportunity should they detect them with their reconnaissance equipment.

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UTAS has already produced a downsized version of RAPTOR centered around the pod’s DB-110 system for use on aircraft in the F-16 class and this is also an option for the RAF’s Typhoon.

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Vickers Varsity T.1 WL626 at East Midlands Aeropark

The Vickers Varsity was T.1 was a training aircraft used primarily to instruct crews of large multi-engined aircraft. This particular aircraft was operated by No.201 Advanced Flying Training School located at RAF Swinderby and had the distinction of being part of a static display at the Queens Review of the Royal Air Force at RAF Odiham in 1953. It departed Swinderby for No.2 Air Navigation School at Thorney Island in 1955. It later transferred to No.1 Air Navigation School at RAF Topcliffe in Yorkshire.

The aircraft was decommissioned in 1976 and given the civilian registry G-BHDD. In 1979 it arrived at East Midlands Aeropark where it now currently resides on display. The following photos were taken on January 18th 2015.

Photos: Tony Wilkins


The Biafran Meteor Caper

Biafra Gloster Meteor caper

The decolonisation process of Africa was a slow and painful process that in many respects continues today. Borders agreed upon by the United Nations didn’t always conform to how the indigenous peoples viewed the land based on history, religion and tribal ancestry. Such was the case of the Igboo people of Southern Nigeria who during the 1950s and 60s felt repeatedly persecuted by the Northern Nigerian based federal government and so in 1967 under the leadership of Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu the south broke away to create the Republic of Biafra. A bloody civil war between the Nigerian government and the Biafran rebels ensued for nearly three years during which time the Nigerian military surrounded Ojukwu’s Biafra and attempted to starve the breakaway nation in to submission.

Bissau Fouga Magister fire

Constellation aircraft with Fouga Magisters onboard burns at Bissau (lae.blogg.se)

Ojukuwu knew he would need arms to secure his nation’s survival and in particular he had aspirations for a powerful Biafran air force equipped with jet combat aircraft. With world opinion greatly divided on the subject of Biafran independence he knew that acquisitions through the regular channels would not be easy and so he had his people find alternative ways of acquiring military aircraft. The Biafrans experienced mixed success in gaining aircraft to equip their embryonic air force. A small number of disassembled ex-Austrian Fouga Magisters jet trainers were successfully smuggled out of Europe aboard a chartered Lockheed Constellation in 1968 only to have them destroyed in a suspicious fire during a stopover at Bissau airport in Guinea.

In Europe the Gloster Meteor, Britain’s first jet fighter, was serving out its final days before retirement. The aircraft was exported well across Europe and many had been retired to scrap yards or private companies who operated them for a variety of testing purposes. Ojukuwu’s people began to realize that given the sheer number of airframes and parts scattered across Europe that the Meteor might be a more practical acquisition prospect and began making contacts with less than truly legitimate businessmen in the UK, France, Germany, Portugal and Sweden who would be willing (or alternatively unknowingly) assist them in acquiring Meteors. Despite it being almost an archaic combat aircraft by European standards the Meteor was still a potent aircraft in Africa but as the plan was set in to motion the Biafran requirements became more specific.

They needed a Meteor that could fly and fight at night.

The Nigerian effort to starve Biafra in to submission had provoked an angry response from international aid organizations. In an act of courage and compassion the International Red Cross ignored warnings by the Nigerians and began flying in aid to Biafra’s biggest airport at Uli. As well as their own aircraft the Red Cross chartered American Hank Warton’s North American Aircraft Trading Corporation and their small fleet of Lockheed L.1049 Super Constellations. Based (on paper only) in Miami, Warton had built up a strong relationship with Ojukuwu’s government and his company had become known in aviation circles as “Biafran Airlines”. Warton had almost no scruples when it came to flying in weapons or even narcotics to Biafra and after the Nigerian army captured the last Biafran sea port in 1968 his company became almost the only means of getting supplies in to the breakaway republic. Humanitarian flights on behalf of the Red Cross gave an air of legitimacy to his operation but in reality a lot of the aid was traded in for weapons at Faro in Portugal. Of the aid that did get in via Warton’s airline most of it went to Ojukuwu’s government or his forces leaving thousands to starve.

From 1968 onwards the only available airstrip in Biafra that could handle the flights was at Uli. The airport effectively became Biafra’s lifeline and as such the Nigerian air force gave it special attention flying fighters around the airport during the daytime to intercept any flights. Therefore operations had to be flown exclusively at night when the Nigerian air force day fighter-only MiG-17s couldn’t locate them. The Nigerians therefore adopted a different tactic to stop the flow of supplies in to the airport. Douglas DC-3 and DC-4 airliners were flown around the airport at night waiting for an incoming flight to trigger the landing lights. The Nigerian aircraft would then try to either warn the flight away by calling out to it over the radio claiming to be a fighter or would shadow the aircraft until it landed and then attempt to bomb it on the runway by hurling explosives down upon it. The Nigerians met with mixed success but the very threat of these “night intruder” flights was enough to provoke Ojukuwu who now demanded nightfighters to combat them.

It was not long before Ojukuwu’s demands looked like they were about to be met when four ex-Danish Gloster Meteor NF.11s converted to target towing aircraft and operated by a Swedish company on behalf of the Danish government were put up for sale. The aircraft received some refurbishment work in Sweden by Svenska Flygverkstäderna although it is not known if the company realised the aircraft were destined for Biafra or whether they were told they would be used in Europe by another private company offering target towing services. In March 1969 two of these aircraft were secured by Danish merchant Keld Åge Mortensen who got the aircraft delivered to Gosselies in Belgium. There he planned to have more work carried out on them that would effectively re-militarise them and then ferry them down to Faro in Portugal before on to Biafra.

Swedish Meteor (lae.blogg.se)

Swedish Meteor (lae.blogg.se)

In order to operate the aircraft with an air of legitimacy over Europe, West German registrations were applied for them and reserved as D-CAKU and D-CAKY. Included in the application was a ferry plan to take the aircraft to Lisbon in Portugal. The plan fell through however when US authorities warned the West German Aviation Authority that they suspected the aircraft were destined for Biafra and the application was rejected leaving the aircraft stuck at Goselies. Ojukuwu’s European agents attempted to continue the plan by trying to hoodwink the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in to granting a registration but that plan failed when the CAA noticed that the cheque was dated two weeks after the requested start date of the application. They never flew again and remain in Belgium to this day albeit in a very poor state.

The next effort to acquire Meteor nightfighters was the most successful. Gloster Meteor NF.14 WS829 had been struck off charge with the Royal Air Force in 1963 and had entered the UK civil registry as G-ASLW working under the prestigious umbrella of Rolls-Royce Aviation. The aircraft was used by Rolls-Royce as a “hack” aircraft meaning that it was used to ferry important people who needed to be sent somewhere quickly or to simply keep test pilots’ hours up. The acquisition of a Hawker-Siddeley HS.125 in 1969 meant that the Meteor had become almost surplus to requirements and so Rolls-Royce approached Templewood aviation with the goal of valuing the aircraft for sale. Templewood however had supplied a number of aircraft to Biafra already through various means and was part of the aforementioned effort to deliver Fouga Magisters to the embattled country. A businessman who had close links with both the Biafra regime and Templewood, Tony Osborne, seized the opportunity to acquire the Meteor nightfighter for Biafra and on the 4th of July 1969 he purchased the aircraft through Templewood for £5,500.

Now Osborne had to get the aircraft from Rolls-Royce’s test field at Hucknell air field but when his own contracted pilot failed to turn up he politely asked Rolls-Royce themselves to spare a pilot who could fly the aircraft to Bordeaux, France. Rolls-Royce were willing to spare a pilot for a small fee to Osborne but refused to fly it out of the country since he lacked any paperwork permitting export. They therefore agreed to fly the Meteor to the airfield at Hurn in Bournemouth for Osbourne who in the meantime had worked through his contacts at Templewood to find a replacement pilot. He was successful but the pilot he found hadn’t any experience on this particular Meteor type and therefore travelled to Hucknell to fly with the Rolls-Royce pilot on its transfer from Hucknell to Hurn. The aircraft took off at 0930hrs on the morning of Sunday 6th of July 1969 and upon landing a little over an hour later it was formally handed over to Osborne still resplendent in its beautiful Rolls-Royce livery.  The Rolls-Royce pilot left and Osborne quickly went about getting the aircraft refuelled. The refuelling team at Hurn operated by Shell began to refuel the aircraft after solving a problem with a nozzle attachment not knowing that the aircraft was no longer operated by Rolls-Royce who were later billed for the fuel – Osborne remained quiet about who the real owner was. While the aircraft was readied for its next flight to Bordeaux, Osborne went about gathering a temporary export license for the aircraft from the Civil Aviation Authority which was granted on the basis that it was to fly to France for use by Target Towing Aircraft Co Ltd on behalf of a German businessman who planned to use it for a Luftwaffe contract. The temporary license was passed and later that day the Meteor took off from Hurn and landed at Bordeaux over an hour later.

It was from this point that the as-yet wholly legal effort to get the aircraft out of the UK came to an end. It spent only a few hours at Bordeaux before it took off again and climbed to almost 41,000ft; far above commercial traffic and where its engines would have the maximum fuel efficiency in order to fly south-west through Spain and Portugal before landing at Faro airport on the southern tip of Portugal which was known for its pro-Biafran stance. Strangely, both the pilot and navigator sourced through Templewood aviation reportedly flew the entire flight in total radio silence until reaching Faro meaning Spanish and Portuguese authorities did nothing to stop the aircraft. Osborne flew his own private aircraft to the airport a short time later to inspect it and make sure it would be ready for the next phase; remilitarizing the aircraft and then flying it to Biafra. His aircraft carried a number of spares for the aircraft that was included in the deal with Rolls-Royce and these would be used to keep the aircraft flying.

More spares were to be flown out by another pilot, Dick Kingsmill, in a Cessna a short while after and it was here the plan ran the risk of being discovered when Kingsmill was asked to produce an export license for the equipment his aircraft was carrying at Hurn. Kingsmill claimed that the Meteor was still at Bordeaux and had been rendered unserviceable due to a malfunction in the braking system. He argued that the export license was irrelevant since the materials he was flying out would be returning to the UK when the Meteor returned at the end of its export license. The rouse worked and Kingsmill was permitted to fly out. A few hours later he landed at Faro where the Meteor was waiting ready for its flight to Africa.

Meteor NF.14

Meteor NF.14 (Defence of the Realm)

In the meantime efforts were underway to acquire a second Meteor nightfighter. An acquaintance of Osborne, Tony Paris who worked for P.B. Export Sales Ltd but also had links to Templewood Aviation, had contacted the Ministry of Defence to enquire about any Meteors for sale. With the export license for the first Meteor about to expire which was expected to alert British authorities to what was going on a new cover story was created which was that Paris was working for a movie production company who wanted to use the aircraft for filming. It was not without precedent for in 1948 four Bristol Beaufighters were refurbished and sold to a film company for making a movie. In reality the “film crew” were working for the new state of Israel and once purchased Israeli pilots flew them out of the UK down to Israel where they became part of the embryonic Israeli Air Force.

The MoD told Paris of a Meteor being used as a “hack” by the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Bedford. Incredibly it too was an NF.14 version carrying the military serial WS804 and Paris acquired it on behalf of Osborne on the 27th of August 1969. Acquiring this aircraft was not as easy as the previous aircraft however as the MoD put on a number of provisions to the sale including that it was not to be sold to Target Towing Co Ltd due to an outstanding fee the company had yet to pay. Osborne registered the aircraft as G-AXNE the following day and after a new Certificate of Airworthiness was acquired an RAE Bedford pilot flew the aircraft to Blackbushe for delivery. While the Rolls-Royce livery of the first aircraft had been an unexpected bonus for Osborne and his people the military markings of this aircraft were a problem and would no doubt create unnecessary attention when travelling abroad. Osborne therefore went about having the aircraft’s military markings removed and the civilian serial G-AXNE painted on the tail. To reinforce the cover story “Enterprise Films” titles were painted on the nose. The aircraft was flown to Exeter airport and then again to Bordeaux on the 7th of September 1969 after another temporary export license was agreed with the CAA. Unfortunately for Osborne’s plan the aircraft was damaged during the flight possibly due to the pilot’s unfamiliarity of the aircraft. Either way it would be another two days before the aircraft was repaired and flown to Faro where it was parked up next to the first aircraft while Tony Paris had sourced a third aircraft in the UK.

Biafra Meteor NF.14 WS804 G-AXNE

Biafra’s fleet of Meteor nightfighters was growing.

The third Meteor, an unusual NF.11/14 hybrid being used for radar trials by Ferranti in the UK, would prove a Meteor too far for Osborne and his associates. The MoD blocked the sale of the third Meteor which would have included an extensive stock of spares that would have been extremely useful when the aircraft arrived in Biafra after the MoD’s bureaucrats discovered that they had lost contact with two of their former Meteors. Osborne therefore had to settle for the two he had in Faro.

11034210_761906070596533_4289369719516250476_nBefore they could be delivered they needed to have their weapons restored. In RAF service they were armed with four 20mm Hispano V cannons (left) but upon decommissioning the weapons were removed by the MoD. The Hispano V was a common weapon in Europe especially with the number of British built aircraft operated on the continent that were armed with them such as the Gloster Meteor and the De Havilland Vampire. Eventually enough parts were collected to assemble eight guns (four per aircraft) from various sources and delivered to Faro including a selection of parts delivered by Dick Kingsmill who would later be arrested and tried for illegally exporting weapons. The Portuguese government knew what was going on and had largely turned a blind eye to what was happening at Faro but when efforts were made to fit ammunition to the newly installed guns they demanded that they stop and that the aircraft should depart for Biafra quickly.

Thus on the 20th of September 1969 the aircraft were made ready for their delivery flight which began the next day. The two aircraft took off from Faro and landed in Funchal, Portuguese Madeira. The plan was for them to then fly on to Dakar and then to Bissau in Portuguese Guinea before finally flying to Biafra. It was a well-known route as many aid flights flew this route as had previously delivered aircraft. The transit would prove frustrating however. Both aircraft made the initial flight to Funchal but were rendered unserviceable for a variety of reasons. G-AXNE was able to fly again shortly after landing and so it went on to Dakar and then a few days later landed in Bissau where it was again damaged by the poor conditions at the airfield thus rendering it unserviceable.

G-ASLW had taken longer to repair in Madeira and it would be several days after its compatriot had left that it finally got airborne again flown by a pilot working for Templewood Aviation. The aircraft flew some way out to sea to avoid detection by either friendly or pro-Nigerian pilots who might report the aircraft but for some reason the pilot felt it necessary to drop his plans to fly to Dakar and then on to Bissau and fly directly to Bissau. The pilot either had not grasped just how much range his aircraft had probably due to his unfamiliarity with the type or had unknowingly travelled too far out to sea before turning back in for Bissau but either way it was not long before he realized that he was not going to make it. His aircraft was running so low on fuel that any chance of making landfall became out of the question. He therefore descended and searched for a ship and upon finding one ejected in front of it allowing the ex-Rolls-Royce Meteor to go tumbling in to the sea. The passing ship picked him up and took him to Cape Verde where he boarded an airliner back to Lisbon, Portugal.

G-AXNE

This just left the ex-RAE Bedford Meteor G-AXNE at Bissau. Plans were made to repair the aircraft quickly and get it to Biafra. The worry was that the aircraft would be sabotaged or destroyed by pro-Nigerians as had happened to the earlier Magisters at the airport but in the end it would be the British Foreign Office who would “destroy” the aircraft but with the pen rather than the sword. The full weight of British diplomacy was thrown behind efforts to impound the aircraft and the authorities at Bissau eventually caved in dragging the aircraft to a corner of the airfield where it was exposed to the African elements that ensured it never flew again. For many years it remained there (above) growing dilapidated before disintegrating.

Ojukwu never realised his dream of a jet nightfighter force and within four months his country would cease to exist as Nigeria finally crushed Biafra. British authorities were already investigating Osborne and his associates when G-AXNE was discovered in Bissau and Osborne, Paris, Kingsmill and several others were all arrested and heavily fined for their involvement thus bringing to a close the incredible story of the Biafran Meteor Caper.

Gloster Meteor F.8

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The penultimate variant of Britain’s first jet fighter the F.8 (sometimes referred to as the Mark 8 or F.mk.8) variant of the Gloster Meteor was intended to keep the aircraft competent while the new generation of swept wing fighters were under development. In reality the Meteor F.8 was not in the same class as the Soviet Union’s MiG-15 swept wing fighter as was proven in combat during the Korean War. Nevertheless the aircraft in the hands of the Royal Australian Air Force still gave a very good account of itself and was still potent when faced with the piston engined fighters still in service around the world or other straight wing jets such as the Republic F-84 Thunderjet and the Yakovlev Yak-15/17.

553229_761905707263236_8605473380426401875_nThe Meteor F.8 was based on the stretched fuselage two-seat Meteor T.7 trainer fitted with a single cockpit and standard fighter armament. It was powered by a pair of Rolls-Royce Derwent 8 engines that produced 3500lbs of thrust each, more than double what the Meteor Mk.I with its Welland engines produced demonstrating just how far the aircraft and jet technology had come in just 5 years. Stripped out (i.e. guns and ammunition removed as well as non-essential equipment) and the Meteor F.8 could tear through 640mph with relative ease. Fully loaded however and the airspeed tended to hover around the 600mph mark, still impressive when you consider that just three years earlier the fastest propeller driven aircraft were struggling to get beyond 400mph. The two Derwents allowed the aircraft to achieve a thrust-to-weight ratio of 0.45 and this meant it could climb at around 7,000ft a minute to a service ceiling of 43,000ft.

The Meteor’s design benefited from experience gained in the years of World War II in terms of its gun armament. The aircraft was fitted with four Hispano Mk.V cannons, an arrangement that quickly became standard on all British fighters of the period as it offered the best compromise between weight, ammunition capacity and of course hitting power. The weapon could hurl a 20mm shell at 840m/s and achieve a rate of fire of 750rds/min. Mounted close together in the nose meant that the pilot could bring all four guns to bear on a single spot on a target at longer ranges thus increasing their destructive power. The gun did have a somewhat chequered history however and the earlier version of the weapon was prone to jamming. In fact the first two interceptions of V-1 Flying Bombs by earlier versions of the Meteor suffered from jammed guns forcing the pilots to resort to the wingtip method of bringing them down. The Mk.V in the Meteor F.8 had largely resolved the problem but it was still prone to jamming if not properly maintained. During testing of the aircraft it was discovered that when all the ammunition had been expended the aircraft became tail heavy. This resulted in a redesigned tail being fitted to help counteract the problem.

Gloster Meteor F8 rocketsAgain, recent war experience played a part in the air-to-ground configurations with the Meteor often adopting the powerful 60lb Rocket Projectile (RP) that had proven so effective against tanks and ships under the wings of wartime Bristol Beaufighters, De Havilland Mosquitoes and of course the Hawker Typhoon. The Meteor could carry up to sixteen of the weapons under its outboard wings or alternatively eight 5-inch HVAR rockets. Another air-to-ground weapon was the traditional unguided bomb and the Meteor could carry two 1,000lb bombs under its wings.

Initial deliveries of the F.8 to the RAF began in August 1949 and the first frontline squadron converted to the aircraft the following year. Between 1950 and 1955 the aircraft constituted the bulk of RAF Fighter Command’s daytime fighter force but because of its general inferiority to the MiG-15 “Fagot” a number of Canadair built F-86 Sabres were acquired for operations in Germany until newer British fighters appeared such as the Supermarine Swift and Hawker Hunter. The Meteor F.8 was replaced in frontline service in 1957 but the nightfighter and fighter-reconnaissance versions served on until the 1960s.

  • Powerplant: 2x Derwent 8 (3,500lbs thrust each)
  • Max Speed: 592mph
  • Service Ceiling: 43,000ft
  • Length: 44ft 7in (13.59m)
  • Wingspan: 37ft 2in (11.32m)
  • Height: 13 ft 0 in (3.96m)
  • Armament: 4x 20mm Hispano V cannons
    2x1000lb bombs or 16x60lb unguided rockets

See Also

Fairey Fulmar (N1854)

This aircraft was the first production version and also the first true prototype of the FULMAR. It made its initial flight in January 1940 (the first FULMAR to fly) before going to A&AEE Boscombe Down for flight trials (along with two other early FULMAR aircraft N1855 & N1858). It also took part in deck landing trials on board HMS Illustrious in 1940.

After the war it was retained by the Fairey Aviation Company for use as a communications and transport aircraft and registered G-AIBE on the civil register.

In 1972 it returned to its former code N1854 and was presented to the Fleet Air Arm Museum at Yeovilton where it remains on display as the last surviving example of the 600 Fairey Fulmars built.

The Fairey Fulmar was named after the Fulmar, a gull-like sea bird related to the Albatrosses.  It is known for its graceful gliding flight over the sea.

Fairey Firefly TT1 (Z2033)

Built as a TT1 target tug in 1944 the aircraft carried out a number of testing duties for the Royal Navy and Fairey Aviation among others until 1978 when it was donated to the Imperial War Museum. In 2012 it was painted in the wartime colours of the Far East Squadron and now resides at the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Yeovilton

Gloster Meteor F.8 vs. Dassault Ouragon

Ouragon vs Meteor

The advent of Jet technology in the 1940s offered levels of aircraft performance not previously dreamed of. Britain’s first operational jet fighter was the Gloster Meteor, a twin engine design that was to all intents and purposes an aircraft of the piston engine era but powered by jet engines. Despite this the aircraft went on to have a successful career initially as a day fighter and then later as a fighter bomber, reconnaissance fighter and night fighter.

France’s aviation industry suffered under Nazi occupation. A number of French aircraft were pressed in to Luftwaffe service and the French aviation industry was turned towards supporting the Germans which subsequently made it a target for the RAF and later the USAAF. After the war a new aviation company appeared in France that would come to define French military aviation for the next sixty years – Dassault.

Headed by Marcel Dassault the company needed to break out quickly in to the new post-war military aviation scene if it intended to compete and so it had to embrace jet technology. With little or no experience with jet technology the company turned to the UK and imported a number of Rolls-Royce Nene engines with which to build a new fighter around. The result was the Dassault MD450 Ouragon (Hurricane); France’s first ever jet fighter aircraft.

At the time of the Ouragon’s introduction in 1952 the RAF had re-equipped with the penultimate variant of the Gloster Meteor, the F.8 model which was intended to keep the aircraft competent while the new generation of swept wing fighters was under development. In reality neither the Meteor F.8 nor the Ouragon were in the same class as the Soviet Union’s MiG-15 swept wing fighter but they were both still potent when faced with the remaining piston fighters or other straight wing jets such as the Republic F-84 and the Yakovlev Yak-15.

But which was the better fighter?


LAYOUT

Gloster Metor F-8

The Meteor was a conventional straight wing design with a high mounted tailplane in order to keep it clear from the jetwash of the two engines. The engines themselves were mounted in pods midway along the length of the wings in an arrangement similar to a number of wartime piston engine aircraft. This reflected the play-it-safe philosophy taken in designing Britain’s first operational jet fighter. This arrangement naturally increased the drag factor although this was less than in piston engine aircraft of similar dimensions because the very nature of jet technology requires air to pass through the nacelle rather than over it.

Ouragon

The Ouragon on the other hand adopted what was becoming the standard shape for single engined jet fighters of the late 1940s. Like the Meteor the aircraft was of straight wing design, although they were significantly thinner than the British aircraft’s wings, with a high tailplane while air for the Nene engine was fed through a single gaping intake in the nose. This produced an aerodynamically efficient shape which was somewhat spoiled by the fitting of wingtip tanks to increase range. These also had a negative effect on roll-rate and pilots complained that the aircraft liked to break in to an uncommanded roll when in a tight turn.

POWERPLANT

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Early jet engines were significantly underpowered and this lead to the first operational jet fighters, the Messerschmitt Me.262 and the Gloster Meteor, being fitted with two jet engines to give them the necessary thrust. The Mark.I Meteor was powered by two Welland turbojets each producing just 1700lbs thrust but as the technology matured the engines quickly became more powerful until the Meteor F.8 was developed equipped with Rolls-Royce Derwent 8 engines. These engines produced 3500lbs of thrust each, more than double what the Wellands produced.

Rolls Royce Nene

A little known fact is that it was actually a Frenchman who was the first to patent a gas turbine aero-engine. Maxime Guiliam designed what is now termed an axial flow turbojet and patented the design in 1921, seven years before Frank Whittle submitted his own design. However, as Whittle experienced in the UK, there was very little interest at the time due to the complexities involved in building the engine and a suitable aircraft. France’s capitulation meant that French jet development went out the window while Britain and Germany developed their own programs. This left them trailing behind in the immediate post-war era and so the French decided to use imported British engines while they began development of their own engines. Therefore the Ouragon was designed around a single Rolls-Royce Nene engine which developed 4990lbs thrust.

PERFORMANCE

RAF Meteor F8

Stripped out (i.e. guns and ammunition removed as well as non-essential equipment) and the Meteor F.8 could tear through 640mph with relative ease. Fully loaded however and the airspeed tended to hover around the 600mph mark, still impressive when you consider that just three years earlier the fastest propeller driven aircraft were struggling to get beyond 400mph. The two Derwents allowed the aircraft to achieve a thrust-to-weight ratio of 0.45 and this allowed it to climb at around 7,000ft a minute to a service ceiling of 43,000ft.

ouragan

The Ouragon topped out at 584mph in level flight although naturally French pilots tried to get more out of their aircraft by engaging in high speed dives. Doing this did achieve greater speeds, sometimes in excess of 600mph but often this overstressed the airframe. The Nene engine, despite being more powerful than a single Derwent, didn’t leave the Ouragon with a great deal of power having a thrust-to-weight ratio of around 0.31 under combat conditions. The gutsier Nene did however allow the Ouragon to keep pace with the Meteor when in a climb although the Meteor enjoyed a solid one thousand more feet in its service ceiling figures.

Please note; thrust-to-weight figures are determined by taking how much thrust is available compared to the full-up weight of a typical fighter mission. Adding ground attack weapons such as bombs and rockets decrease the thrust-to-weight ratio further however as fuel is expended the ratio becomes higher than it was just after take-off. Either way the Meteor still enjoyed a higher thrust-to-weight ratio than the Ouragon.

GUNS

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The Meteor’s design benefitted from experience gained in the years of World War II in terms of its gun armament. The aircraft was fitted with four Hispano Mk.V cannons, an arrangement that quickly became standard on all British fighters of the period as it offered the best compromise between weight, ammunition capacity and of course hitting power. The weapon could hurl a 20mm shell at 840m/s and achieve a rate of fire of 750rds/min. Mounted close together in the nose meant that the pilot could bring all four guns to bear on a single spot on a target at longer ranges thus increasing their destructive power. The gun did have a somewhat chequered history however and the earlier version of the weapon was prone to jamming. In fact the first two interceptions of V-1 Flying Bombs by earlier versions of the Meteor suffered from jammed guns forcing the pilots to resort to the wingtip method of bringing them down. The Mk.V in the Meteor F.8 had largely resolved the problem but it was still prone to jamming if not properly maintained.

Dassault Ouragon

The Dassault Ouragon was equipped with almost the same gun it being the French equivalent the MS.404. Like the Hispano Mk.V it was a 20mm weapon but featured a longer barrel than the British gun as well as other minor changes. This resulted in a weapon capable of dispensing a round with a velocity of 880m/s with a rate of fire of 700rds/min. This meant that the Ouragon’s guns were marginally harder hitting while the Meteor’s guns could get more rounds on to a target in the same period of time. Like the Meteor the guns were arranged close together in the nose of the aircraft which offered the same advantages.

ADDITIONAL WEAPONS

Gloster Meteor F8 rockets

Both aircraft found themselves quite adept at ground attack when they passed their short primes as fighters. Again, recent war experience played a part in the air-to-ground configurations with the Meteor often adopting the powerful 60lb Rocket Projectile (RP) that had proven so effective against tanks and ships under the wings of wartime Bristol Beaufighters, De Havilland Mosquitoes and of course the Hawker Typhoon. The Meteor could carry up to sixteen of the weapons under its outboard wings or alternatively eight 5-inch HVAR rockets. Another air-to-ground weapon was the traditional unguided bomb and the Meteor could carry two 1,000lb bombs under its wings.

ouragan_france

The Ouragon was designed with the ground attack role more in mind than the Meteor and it shows with the various weaponloads that could be carried on its four underwing pylons. In total the aircraft could carry aloft around 5,000lbs of weaponry, more than twice what the Meteor was carrying. Weapons included up to 16 105mm rockets or two Matra pods containing 18 SNEB 68mm rockets (this weapon’s dimensions prevented other weapons being carried on the other pylons).

CONCLUSION

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In the air-to-air role the Meteor F.8 held a slight speed and altitude advantage over the Ouragon but where the Meteor surpasses the French type is in its more sprightly performance thanks to its greater thrust-to-weight ratio. What this means in combat is that the Meteor could recover any lost energy from a tight turning battle quicker than the Ouragon. Another distinct advantage the Meteor held over the Ouragon was its twin engine arrangement which meant the Meteor could be expected to be able to sustain more damage than the single engined Ouragon. One advantage the Ouragon pilot would enjoy would be that he would be shooting against a bigger target than the Meteor pilot and it would also be somewhat easier to locate the Meteor in the heat of battle.

As always we have to take in to consideration pilot training but from a technical point of view it is safe to say that these aircraft would be closely matched in combat and as long as their pilots played to their respective aircraft’s strengths then both aircraft would give a good account of themselves. In the ground attack role however the Ouragon does hold the edge although again the Meteor’s twin engine arrangement means that it would be less likely to be brought down by small arms fire than the Ouragon.