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What has the airframe been doing since being withdrawn from service?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