Update on the restoration of Meteor NF.14 WS788

Graham Buckle provides an update of the project to restore Meteor NF.14 WS788. If you missed the interview back in April where Graham gives more of an introduction to the project you can view it here.

All photos courtesy of Graham Buckle. For more images of the aircraft as the project has unfolded you can visit the project’s Facebook page.


It’s been a busy year for us on the Meteor team. Since our last update we have been on one spares recovery mission, and done a massive amount of work to return 788 to her former glory. The team now numbers 4, with the addition of Andy Abbott. We have also become a little more ambitious regarding how far we are going to restore the jet, and have discovered that as we work through her and learn her systems the project to bring her back to life is less daunting than it originally seemed…

Firstly, the bigger jobs. Earlier this year we refitted the nose cone. This returned the jet back to her unmistakable profile! Then, after recruiting extra hands, we spent a day refitting the wings to the jet, and while we were at it we persuaded the belly tank off finally.

armstrong-whitworth-gloster-meteor-nf-14-ws788-yorkshire-night-fighter

So we now had a jet that was the correct shape. But she was still a dead, empty shell, missing many parts vital to us if we are ever going to return her to life. And it’s not like you can just pop to Halfords to get NF.14 bits off the shelf…

Word came to us via the editor of Flypast Magazine, Chris Gilson, that a Meteor F.8 was still extant on the army firing range at Sennybridge, Powys. I will be honest, we were sceptical that such an old aircraft would still be there, and in anything like usable condition. There was also the small matter of would we be allowed access to a live firing range…? I set Rich on with the task of making contact with Sennybridge, firstly to ascertain if the aircraft was still there, and secondly to see if it was worthwhile us paying it a visit.

The army could not have been more helpful, the range commander even going to the trouble of sending a man out to photograph the aircraft so we could see if there was anything on the jet worth having prior to making the long trek to South Wales from Yorkshire. And indeed there was! Despite it having been on a Welsh hillside since 1966, and shot at repeatedly by squaddies, there was a trove of parts on that jet. So on a wet, windy day, there we were on a Welsh hillside questioning our sanity in horizontal rain retrieving parts from the remains of Meteor F.8 VZ568! I should say at this point, some of you will be wondering why we were interested in F.8 parts when our jet is an NF.14? Well the 2 jets share the same centre section, rear fuselage, tail, and many systems and cockpit parts. Only the outer wings and nose are really different in terms of the airframe.

After a day’s pillaging we came away with a Transit van full of invaluable parts. We still owe a massive thank you to the staff at Sennybridge for all their help! Sadly the jet’s fuel tank was beyond saving; we would really have loved to retrieve that but someone had blasted a great hole in the top of it which could only be seen once you climbed up on the wing of the jet. We did gather the elevator layshaft, upper airbrake assemblies, much of the aileron control system, and myriad smaller parts though. Even the last gauge left in 568’s cockpit, the flap indicator, was salvaged. It is now restored, working, and fitted in 788’s cockpit replacing the U/S scruffy item that was fitted.

armstrong-whitworth-gloster-meteor-nf-14-ws788-yorkshire-night-fighter-2Once the jet was back in one piece, we could start working through her systematically to see what we had and what we still required. For a jet retired in 1966, she is in many ways surprisingly complete. Let me take you through the jet as she stands… The front cockpit is all there, even our gunsight which was feared lost has been rediscovered, restored, and is now ready to reunite with the aircraft. The rear cockpit presents somewhat of a challenge. We are restoring the jet to NF(T).14 spec, as this is what she spent most of her service life as. Unfortunately details on the rear cockpit fit of the nav trainer NF’s is sketchy to say the least. But we are working on that! Working back down the fuselage, the main fuel tank is missing, and here in the fuel tank bay we encounter the first major problem. All the aircraft’s wiring loom is routed through this bay, and to save time when she has been dismantled to move by road the RAF ‘Crash and Smash’ teams have simply chopped through the wiring. So we have all the loom at the front of the bay, and again at the back of the bay into the rear fuselage, to rejoin. This will be a long, painstaking job. Any damaged wiring found during this process will of course be replaced.

The same applies to the loom where it leaves the fuselage at the wing roots. In addition, all the hydraulic jointing pipes in this section will need replacing too, as they are all missing.

Back to the fuselage, the main electrical distribution board on the back wall of the radio bay is surprisingly intact. Even the jet’s 3 main 60A fuses are still present!

In the radio bay itself, all the racking for the radio gear is present. All the wiring is too, and the plugs are all still wrapped in the protective coverings applied to them by some diligent Liney after the jet flew into Kemble for long term storage in 1966. These have done their job brilliantly; thank you, diligent Liney!

The controls are a different matter. For some reason the aileron control rods in the wing leading edges have been removed, however between a stash of new rod and the fixtures and fittings obtained off the Sennybridge Meteor, we have nearly all the components we need to replace these.

Elevator control rods have also disappeared for some reason, as had 788’s layshaft. Back to the radio bay the elevators are controlled by rods. In the radio bay the layshaft converts the rod input to cables, which then run to the tail then up to the elevators. We now have the rods, the layshaft, and just need the cables and we are there.

The rudder controls are cable all the way from the pedals to the tail. Again, ‘Crash and Smash’ elected to cut these, so the rudder system will need a lot of attention to get it functional again.

armstrong-whitworth-gloster-meteor-nf-14-ws788-yorkshire-night-fighter-3So electrically we know what work there is to do, as indeed we do hydraulically. We are on top of things as regards returning the controls to working order too. Work this year has mainly focused on the airframe itself. The biggest enemy of an aircraft living outdoors is of course corrosion. Ours has had her fair share but we are working through correcting this. We have so far only found one panel which is too badly corroded to be saved, a fillet panel in the port undercarriage bay. One of the main undercarriage doors was in a sad way too, but we have replaced this with a brand new unissued item which we were very kindly donated. Much of the corrosion under the centre section has been dealt with too, the majority of this by Ali. I have been working through the myriad access hatches and panels on the jet, removing screws and fastenings which have not been undone for 50 years or so. As I am sure you can imagine, they frequently aren’t all that keen to undo, so the drill is often the weapon of choice.

One curve ball the jet has thrown at us which has only come to light over the last couple of weeks is the fact that 788’s outer wings aren’t actually hers! They are in fact off an NF.12, the only big difference being that the 14 has a second set of flaps between the engine nacelle and the aileron which the 12 does not. Where these wings came from, and why, is currently a mystery, but I hope to find a serial number pencilled inside one of the access panels which will hopefully shed some light on the mystery. The wings are very much a hotch-potch; while the centre section is 788’s, the outer wings and one leading edge section are NF.12, another leading edge section is NF.11, and one wingtip light is off NF.14 WS809! So we have a Meteor NF(Mongrel).14…

One thing I was never good at when I was at school was doing my homework. But homework is a thing I enjoy on the jet! We all like to take a bit of the aircraft home to work on when we have an idle few minutes; so far I have restored the elevator layshaft, instrument panel, gunsight, cockpit access step, downward ident light, Gee rack and loads of other small bits at home. Rich has the GGS tray at home he is working on, but the most important job he is working on away from the jet is manufacturing the new wooden intake rings. These are coming on wonderfully; he brought one a few weeks ago to test fit, and the difference they make to the jet is amazing.

So, 788 is in a lot better position than she was this time last year. If the 3 substantial parts donations we have been offered come to pass, this time next year could see 788 sporting fully functional flight control, electrical and hydraulic systems, a fuel tank, a shiny new 1ANS paint scheme… and a pair of engines.

Watch this space…

 

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An Interview with Graham Buckle of the Meteor NF.14 WS788 Restoration Project

As long time followers of Defence of the Realm will know I have something of a love affair with the Gloster Meteor. I was therefore thrilled when Graham agreed to speak to me about his team’s work to restore Meteor NF.14 WS788, one of the last nightfighter variants of this iconic British aircraft.

Armstrong Whitworth Gloster Meteor NF.14 WS788 (1)

WS788 in January 2016


Could you tell us a little of the history of the aircraft and its service with the RAF?

The nightfighter version of the famous Gloster Meteor was derived from the 2 seater Meteor T.7 trainer. The Gloster factory was too busy to handle yet another variant of the Meteor though, so they outsourced design, development and production to Armstrong-Whitworth. WS788 is an NF mk.14, the last of the breed. She was built in 1953, and was ready for collection from the factory in February 1954.

In July 1954 she entered operational service, with 152 Squadron at RAF Wattisham. Her time as a front line night fighter was short though, as she was delivered to RAF Kirkbride for conversion to navigation trainer specification in August ’57 after barely 3 years service. In May ‘59 she was issued to 2 Air Navigation School at RAF Thorney Island, moving to 1 ANS at RAF Stradishall in ’62. In their hands she had a Cat.3 accident in 1964 but was repaired, and returned to duty training budding navigators until January 1966, when she was retired and flown to RAF Kemble for storage and eventual disposal.

What has the airframe been doing since being withdrawn from service?

After her flying career came to an end, she was issued the instructional airframe number 7967M, and in 1967 issued to the radar station at RAF Patrington on the East Yorkshire coast for display and gate guard duties. In 1974 she was moved to RAF Leeming in North Yorkshire to guard the gate there, being refurbished in 1982 which led to her masquerading as WS844 for several years. In 1988 she was declared surplus and moved onto the airfield pending disposal, and in 1989 was moved to her new home at the Yorkshire Air Museum.

Where is the aircraft currently located?

At the Yorkshire Air Museum, Elvington.

How did the plan to restore the aircraft come about?

The aircraft had been stood looking unloved for a long time. Last year the outer wings and nose fairing were removed to get the aircraft indoors for restoration to begin in the hands of another group, however not a great deal was achieved before the aircraft had to move outside once more. The aircraft ended up in a corner partially dismantled. I found myself looking for a new project around this time and had wanted to help the poor Meteor for a while so I offered to take the job on!

How many people are currently involved in the project?

Currently three are involved with the aircraft as our main project for the museum. Myself, Richard Woods, who has recently joined the museum after a number of years working with the Shackleton Preservation Trust and Alison Mellor, my better half and fellow Victor XL231 veteran/survivor!

What is the ultimate goal of the restoration? (e.g. display standard, ground running)

Armstrong Whitworth Gloster Meteor NF.14 WS788 Buccaneer B.2We hope to get the aircraft to a point best described as ‘mostly live’. As we have no engines taxying is currently out of the question, but we hope to get the electrics working to at least the point where all internal and external lights will work off either the battery or an external power source. In addition we would like to get the flap and airbrake hydraulic systems operable on the hand pump. As well as being an extra live system on the jet and another thing to catch the public’s attention, this would serve the practical purpose of easing access to some areas of the jet for cleaning and maintenance.

Both the electrics and the hydraulics will need some splicing in the looms and plumbing, as the looms and pipework were cut at the transport joints many years ago. The first priority has to be resolving the corrosion the aircraft is suffering, specifically the lower surfaces of the inner wings. But as we work our way through the jet’s systems and components, our intention is if we can return it to working order we will do.

How is the project being funded?

The museum pays for most things we require. I have bought a few small items for the aircraft myself though out of my own pocket. And we have been extremely lucky in that we have received two substantial donations of very useful parts.

If anyone does want to push some funds towards the restoration, the museum does have a ‘Sponsor a Plane’ initiative running. The details can be found on the YAM website.

What has been the biggest challenge so far?

Ask me that again in six months time when we are really on with the project! The biggest problem we have faced so far is freeing the airbrakes off. They have been shut for probably 50 years! To get to them and clean out the accumulated crap and service the workings they have to be open. It is going to be a long drawn out process I think…! Also the badly dented ventral tank will have to come off for skin repairs. To say it is less than eager to come off would definitely qualify as an understatement…

Have you made contact with any air or ground crew who may have operated the aircraft in service? What have they said about the project?

Only one at this time, a chap by the name of Peter Verney, who was a Meteor NF navigator. He flew in 788 several times, and has supplied me with an air to air photo he took of the jet over Lowestoft. It would appear that former NF Meteor drivers thin on the ground though. I suspect this is partly due to the vintage of the jet, and partly down to the type’s comparatively short service career. It would be nice to hear from others who remember 788 in service though.

Are you working with any other project team or organisation to help complete the project?

Armstrong Whitworth Gloster Meteor NF.14 WS788 cockpitWe have received a lot of information and parts from Sandy Mullen of Meteor Flight, who are responsible for the restorations of the immaculate Meteor NF.14 now residing in Malta and the Meteor T.7 now flying in the UK. In addition the chaps looking after the ATC NF.14 at Royton have been and continue to be helpful and supportive, having provided us with a copy of the Vol.1 which is basically everything you ever needed to know about the workings of the Meteor NF. Before we had that, Martin Garrett of RAM Models had got us started by providing electronic copies of the Meteor T.7 and F.8 manuals to be going on with.

What parts/documents are you still looking for to help complete the project?

Anything is welcomed! A nice shiny new canopy, full set of weather covers and two Rolls Royce Derwent IX engines would be nice. But we are always interested if anyone has useful Meteor bits they wish to pass on.

How can people interested in the project keep abreast of the latest developments?

Either via the Key Publishing forum where we run a restoration thread, or Facebook where WS788 has her very own page (Click here to view).


Graham has agreed to keep me in the loop regarding the project so expect regular updates on Defence of the Realm in the future.

– Tony Wilkins

 

Gloster Meteor T7 VW453 at the Jet Age Museum

A collection of pictures of Gloster Meteor T.7 VW453 on display at the Jet Age Museum in Gloucestershire.
History: Gloucestershire Transport History
Photos: Tony Wilkins


 

On May 25th 1949 VW453 was delivered to RAF Driffield based 203 Advanced Flying School, the first unit to use the Meteor T.7 in any numbers. On September 1st 1949 No.203 AFS was renamed No.226 Operational Conversion Unit at RAF Stradishall and on December 1st 1949 VW453 was transferred to No.604 Squadron at North Weald, Kent. Here it was involved in two separate accidents on October 21st 1950 and July 7th 1952 and in both cases Category 3 damage was repaired on site by Gloster Aircraft technicians.

VW453 was then loaned to RAF Takali (now known as Ta Qali) on Malta on June 18th 1953 but was damaged there on September 27th 1954, necessitating a return to Hucclecote for repairs by Gloster Aircraft. After a period of storage, the T.7 was struck off RAF charge with just 381 hours 25 minutes flying time and was transferred on March 13th 1957 to the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) at Boscombe Down.

VW453 was used by A&AEE for ‘hack’ duties such as tasks involving photo-chase, instrumentation and navigational development and last flew on February 23rd 1968 with a total airframe time of 2048 hours 5 minutes.

The aircraft was delivered to the Jet Age Museum on Monday April 22nd 2013 in rather spectacular fashion; being carried as an underslung load by an RAF Chinook heavylift helicopter (click here to see pictures) who used the aircraft for practising carrying unusual loads. When I first visited the museum earlier this year the aircraft was stored inside the main hall. However its place has now been taken by Meteor NF.13 WM366/4X-FNA. It is now on display outside of the main hall located next to Meteor T.7 WF784

Armstrong-Whitworth (Gloster) Meteor NF.13 WM366/4X-FNA at the Jet Age Museum

A small collection of pictures of Gloster Meteor NF.13 WM366 / 4X-FNA on display at the Jet Age Museum in Gloucestershire.
History: The Jet Age Museum
Photos: Tony Wilkins


 

This rare Meteor NF.13, the tropicalised version of the Armstrong Whitworth NF.11 night fighter, was gifted to the Jet Age Museum by GJD Services Limited at Bruntingthorpe. Only 40 of the type were built, serving with the Syrian, Egyptian, Israeli and French air forces.

This NF.13 served with the Israeli Air Force with the serial 4X-FNA and was delivered in 1955 or 56. It previously carried the British serial WM366 when it was based at the Aircraft & Armament Experimental Establishment and at the Radar Research Establishment.

GJD Services, which specialises in aircraft and engine maintenance, recovery and disposal, acquired it from Lasham, where it belonged to SWWAPS, the Second World War Aircraft Preservation Society. Although the centre section, wings and tailplane are from the Israeli Meteor, it is in fact a composite: the nose is from Meteor TT.20 WM234, latterly at Arborfield near Reading, and the rear fuselage belonged to Meteor F8 VZ462 from Biggin Hill.

The aircraft has recently been moved inside the museum’s display building having previously been stored outside after having been repainted.

 

Gloster Meteor T.7 WF784 at the Jet Age Museum

A collection of pictures of Gloster Meteor F.8 on display at the Jet Age Museum in Gloucestershire.
History: The Jet Age Museum
Photos: Tony Wilkins


This aircraft was the 19th of a batch of 89 Meteor T.7 jet trainers built by Gloster Aviation and delivered to the Royal Air Force between January and September 1951. WF784 served initially with No.26 Squadron and then with No.130 Squadron both based in Germany.

The aircraft then served with the Ferry Training Unit at Benson between 1956 and 1958 before a stint with the College of Air Warfare/Royal Air Force Flying College at Manby and Strubby, Lincolnshire, between 1959 and 1962. It was then transferred to No. 5 Civilian Anti-Aircraft Co-operation Unit before going to 5MU storage and disposal unit at RAF Kemble. It then went to RAF Quedgeley for display on No. 1 site on November 20th 1965.

It was bought by Gloucestershire Aviation Collection/Jet Age Museum on May 30th 1996 with a grant from Tewkesbury Borough Council. After briefly being stored at Quedgeley it arrived at the museum on March 3rd 1997 and is complete except for its two Rolls-Royce Derwent 8 engines.

These photographs were taken on April 11th 2015. The aircraft was residing outside the museum adjacent to the car park along with a number of other airframes.

Weapon File: Fairey Fireflash

Supermarine_Swift_with_Fireflash_missiles_1956

It has long been the belief that air-to-air missile technology was developed as a result of the increase in speed afforded to aircraft by jet technology. While this certainly spurred on the development of such weapons their genesis can be traced back to the need to destroy heavily armoured, well defended bombers quickly and out of range of the bomber’s own defensive weapons.

This requirement was dramatically highlighted in the Battle of Britain where it was found that the Royal Air Force’s fighter aircraft which were armed with .303 machine guns lacked the hitting power to bypass the German bomber’s protection such as self-sealing fuel tanks. The RAF’s answer was to install 20mm cannon armament which had a better punch and from then on nearly all RAF and Luftwaffe fighters featured some kind of cannon armament culminating in an all-cannon armament in the RAF’s fighters towards the end of the war typified by the Gloster Meteor jet fighter.

For the Luftwaffe the need to destroy well protected bombers quickly became more and more urgent as the war progressed. Fighting a combined force of RAF bombers at night and American bombers by day the Luftwaffe needed a weapon to allow high speed attacks on the formations. The Germans experimented with yet heavier armament using cannons in the 30mm to 40mm range but this became impractical. They therefore looked at ways of launching an explosive device against the bombers which would decimate them in a single pass. This resulted in the development of the first guided air-to-air missile, the Ruhrstahl X-4. This simple weapon was guided by its launch aircraft via a wire trailed behind it. The weapon was never tested in combat but the potential was obvious to all and this led to a number of experiments in to the concept by the victorious allies (it should be noted that while the X-4’s guidance method was not successful for air-to-air use it did lay the ground work for a number of successful anti-tank missiles that used wires for guidance such as MILAN and TOW).

The story of the RAF’s first air-to-air missile begins in 1947 when the British Air Ministry, anticipating a new generation of jet powered bombers capable of 600mph, issued a requirement for an air-to-air missile to arm Fighter Command’s aircraft in the 1950s. The result was the Red Hawk missile project but the weapon looked set to impose such performance limitations on the launch aircraft that, coupled with its complexity, by 1950 the RAF had deemed it impractical and lost interest.

In 1949 however the Ministry of Supply issued a requirement calling for a de-rated weapon that would not impose such a weight penalty and address some of the complex problems associated with it. Known briefly as Pink Hawk, in reference to its ancestor, the project then became known as Blue Sky and development was undertaken by Fairey Aviation. By that time Fairey Aviation’s weapons division was well established in the fairey fireflashdevelopment of guided weapons having begun research as far back as the closing stages of the war when they worked on developing guided weapons to use against Japanese Kamikaze aircraft. They had also undertaken development of multi-stage weapons culminating in the S.T.V.1 test vehicle that featured four boosters that could be separated in flight.

In mid-1950 the Ministry of Supply were presented with Fairey’s proposal for a beam-riding weapon incorporating two jettisonable rocket boosters to power it to the target. The weapon was small enough to be carried by nearly all jet nightfighters of the period such as the Gloster Meteor. This was necessary as the weapon required a radar equipped launch aircraft to guide it. The Ministry of Supply were sufficiently interested to order a development batch of weapons for firing trials and the weapon was later renamed Fireflash although the blanket term for the trials remained Blue Sky. At the same time the Ministry of Supply also gave the go ahead for De Havilland’s missile project, the infra-red guided Blue Jay, which eventually became the Firestreak.

Fireflash was a two stage missile consisting of the main weapon flanked by two rocket boosters. The weapon itself was essentially an unpowered, fireflash missile meteorguided dart and relied on the boosters to accelerate it to its optimal speed of around Mach 2. This took the boosters approximately 1.5 seconds to achieve after which they were jettisoned allowing the main weapon to continue on to the target. The two rocket boosters were solid fuelled and attached to the dart by a U-shaped separation device that consisted of a tube housing two cylinder mounted pistons. A 0.06lb cordite charge would power the pistons forward when a pressure switch detected that the boosters had extinguished their fuel thus separating the boosters from the main weapon. Stabilising fins on the boosters prevented them from tumbling upon separation which greatly reduced the risk to the aircraft.

The dart itself featured cruciform wings along its centre of gravity and was steered to the target via four steering rudders at the tail positioned at 45 degrees in relation to these wings. The warhead was located near the nose of the dart and was triggered by an early proximity fuse mounted just ahead of it. The guidance systems were located in the rear of the missile ahead of the steering servos that controlled the rudders.

Fireflash was guided to the target via a process known as “beam riding” which was a common guidance system for early air-to-air and surface-to-air missiles. The concept works by having the launch aircraft direct a narrow beam of radar energy at the target which in the case of Fireflash was achieved by synchronising the radar beam to the aircraft’s gun sight. The pilot would aim at the target using the gunsight and then launch the Fireflash keeping the target aircraft in the gunsight throughout the entire engagement. Receivers in the rear of the missile determined the strength of the radar beam in the longitudinal and lateral axis and issue corrections to the rudders in the tail of the dart. The stronger the radar signal the weapon detected then the more it was on course. The entire assembly was designed to rotate immediately after launch so as to offset any asymmetrical thrust produced by one of the boosters producing more thrust than the other which also kept the weapon roughly within the guidance beam.

Gloster Meteor Fireflash NF.11

Test launches of the weapon began in the summer of 1951 using a modified Armstrong-Whitworth (Gloster) Meteor NF.11 fitted with a distinguishable “bump” on the nose that housed the radar beam antenna. The guidance radar on the Meteor and subsequently any other aircraft to be armed with the weapon was an X band system using a helical scan dish meaning the scanner rotated at a slight angle rather than transition from side to side as in a search radar for example.

The first firings were carried out by Fairey Aviation employees I. R. Ryall, acting as pilot, and P. H. Clark, acting as observer. The target aircraft were often Fairey Firefly drones and the early missiles lacked the warhead until the guidance system had been properly tested. Once satisfied that the missile wasn’t about to fly off in to some populated area live firings began shortly afterwards. The RAF were sufficiently interested to keep funding the weapon’s development but De Havilland’s Firestreak project was closing the gap on the lead Fairey was enjoying at the time. Testing of the weapon was proving remarkably trouble free and as 1955 dawned the RAF commissioned the No 6 Joint Services Trials Unit at RAF Valley to continue developing the weapon and perhaps more importantly develop operating principles for RAF use of guided weapons.

Talks now centred on a production contract with the RAF and Fairey requested a minimum order of 1,000 rounds to take in to consideration operational usage and to make the weapon financially viable. It was at this point however that the RAF began to rethink the whole project. Fairey must have known that there were clouds gathering over the project as well for most of their test pilots were combat veterans themselves and had already recognised the weapon’s obvious limitations.

Fairey Firefly Gloster Meteor Fireflash missile

Fireflash shooting down a Fairey Firefly drone

Despite its accuracy, Fireflash was a comparatively short ranged weapon. The unpowered dart, the very “business end” of the weapon, had a maximum range in the region of 2.2 miles (3.5km) whereas De Havilland’s Firestreak was promising a range of 4 miles (6.4km). Assembling the weapon was a tricky and time consuming process that, unless it was already assembled, increased an aircraft’s turnaround time during missions.

The biggest criticism however centred on its method of guidance. On the one hand it proved quite reliable and was largely immune to physical countermeasures such as chaff since the pilot could keep the target in his gunsight and therefore re-establish contact quickly after the chaff had dropped away. However the weapon required what is known in military circles as a “cooperative target” meaning a target that offered the most ideal positioning for a shot which in this case was directly head of the launch aircraft flying straight and level. This was not so much of a problem for an attack on a lumbering bomber or transport aircraft but against a tight turning fighter it was useless. Also, the fact that the launch aircraft had to keep aiming at the target also left it very vulnerable to attack from another aircraft. De Havilland’s Firestreak, which was infra-red guided, had none of these problems.

Intensive trials of the Fireflash continued on but no full-scale production order was ever given and by the time No 6 Joint Services Trials Unit was redesignated No 1 Guided Weapons Development Squadron in 1957 flying 10 modified Supermarine Swift F7s to carry the missile the project was effectively dead. Instead the unit was now tasked with using the weapon to continue developing the operating principles for guided air-to-air 11713487_10153537915142845_1383701414_nweapons that would then be implemented on future weapons. There were efforts to save the project by its supporters who wanted it adopted for the high altitude bomber interception role but anything the Fireflash could do Firestreak (right) could do better and the last units were withdrawn in 1958.

A cynic might say that Fireflash was something of a failure however this ignores the important contribution it made to the RAF and the British weapons technology effort at large. Fireflash has the distinction of being the first British air-to-air guided missile to be fired, the first guided air-to-air weapon fielded by the RAF (albeit in a trials role) and perhaps most significantly gave the RAF valuable experience in handling such weapons. It therefore paved the way for future weapons from Firestreak and Red Top up to today’s AIM-132 ASRAAM and Meteor.

SPECIFICATIONS

  • Wingspan : 2.34ft
  • Length : 9.31ft
  • Launch Weight : 330lbs
  • Speed : Mach 2 (2436 mph)
  • Range : 2.2 miles
  • Number Built : 300
  • Life Span : 1951 – 1958

RAF Movie – Conflict of Wings (1954)

Conflict of Wings 1954 De Havilland Vampire

The great thing about YouTube is that sometimes it will open you up to movies forgotten by time and this is one such movie. Set in 1950s Norfolk the story concerns the local population of a village as they learn that a nearby stretch of land called the Island of Children is going to be used as a weapons range by the RAF. The once pleasant relations with the nearby RAF base quickly turn sour as both put forward their arguments leading to a surprisingly tense climax.

This is a simple movie that has that 1950s innocence to it with undertones of the serious nature of the early Cold War world. From a military enthusiast’s point of view there is plenty here to keep you interested such as footage of an active RAF base in the 1950s and an albeit brief glimpse at squadron life. One of the most interesting scenes is a training session covering the use of rockets against ships and tanks.

The flying eye-candy primarily concerns the squadron’s De Havilland Vampires that are being re-roled from a fighter to a ground attack tasking hence the need for a new weapons range. Other aircraft that feature include a Gloster Meteor T.7 and perhaps best of all a pair of pre-production Supermarine Swifts that visit the base. The two Swift pilots joke about the Vampires being museum pieces which is somewhat ironic since the Swift’s career was nowhere near as successful as the Vampire’s.

The rest of the movie addresses an important topic that is as relevant now as it was back then; the military’s impact on the environment. This is not an action packed movie although it has some nice flight scenes. It has good pacing and at just under an hour and a half it’s not too long. Got a quiet afternoon and like aeroplanes and local history then this might be for you.