BBC Panorama – If The Bomb Drops (1980)

A thoroughly fascinating and horrifying look at the state of British civil defence in 1980 hosted by a strikingly young Jeremy Paxman. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 triggered a new age of fear in the west about the possibility of a nuclear confrontation between the US and the Soviet Union with Europe sandwiched in the middle. This in turn sparked questions about Britain’s preparedness for such an eventuality as well as inspire a new wave of anti-nuclear protests.

Those who have seen the BBC’s Threads docudrama will see a lot of familiar scenes only this time acted out with the people who would have really carried out those roles had war broken out. Threads used both this program and a later program made by the BBC in 1982, QED – A Guide to Armageddon, to formulate its frighteningly realistic script before it aired in 1984.

The documentary makes note of the relatively small amount spent on civil defence compared to the immense sums of money spent on the nuclear deterrence itself. It also makes clear the belief that if the deterrence remains effective then the need for a permanent civil defence force is negated.

For those with an interest in both history and nuclear weapons, this is well produced and must-see program from that troubled time which hopefully has now passed.

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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…

 

Gloster Javelin FAW.9R XH892 at Norfolk & Suffolk Aviation Museum

Gloster Javelin FAW.9R XH892 was built in 1958 and served with Nos.23 and 64 Squadrons. Upon retirement the aircraft joined the historic aircraft collection at RAF Colerne before eventually being moved to Duxford. After Duxford, it became the property of the Norfolk & Suffolk Aviation Museum where it was restored to static condition and put on display where it remains today. The aircraft carries an “R” in its designation indicating that it was once capable of air-to-air refuelling but the probe is no longer in place.

All photos taken in November 2016 and kindly contributed to Defence of the Realm by Jim Knowles


30th Anniversary of the Chernobyl Disaster

On April 26th 1986, there was an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in modern-day Ukraine. It is one of only two nuclear accidents classified as a level 7 event (the maximum classification) on the International Nuclear Event Scale and of those two it was by far the most serious (the other is the Fukishima incident in 2011).

While remembered as a Soviet tragedy the nuclear explosion was in reality a warning to the world of the danger of nuclear energy if not handled properly and an indication of just how much of a threat to all of humanity nuclear weapons are. What makes Chernobyl so frightening is that its consequences went far beyond the immediate disaster area spreading radioactive particles across western Europe and Scandinavia.

Many historians rightly argue that Chernobyl marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War as the calls for a halt to the seemingly restless nuclear arms race became louder and had a rallying cry: no more Chernobyls.

This fascinating documentary covers the details of the accident and the incredible story of the battle to make the site safe.

Armstrong-Whitworth (Gloster) Meteor Night Fighters

NF14

In the immediate post-war period the RAF took very little interest in night fighter development. With the Luftwaffe destroyed and the lack of any credible night bomber threat from Eastern Europe the proven wartime De Havilland Mosquito force remained the RAF’s primary means of night bomber interception. Development of a jet powered night fighter was for the moment delayed until such a time a requirement was deemed necessary and the infantile technology had caught up to compensate for the weight penalty the night fighting equipment imposed.

TU4

Tu-4 “Bull”

Then on August 3rd 1947 military observers in Moscow were stunned to see what appeared to be B-29 Superfortresses taking part in the Aviation Day parade. In reality these were reverse engineered B-29s built as the Tupolev Tu-4 “Bull” and they caused a lot of concern in the west for it showed that the Soviets now had a genuine strategic bomber with very high speed and altitude performance. The west would later discover that the Tu-4 was inferior to the B-29 but nevertheless it allowed the Soviet aviation industry to leap-frog ahead and the technological lessons learned from the Tu-4 would be put in to more advanced designs later (in fact the Tu-16 “Badger” and the mighty Tu-95″ Bear both owe a lot of their fuselage design to the B-29/Tu-4). With the blockade of Berlin a year later and the start of the Cold War a confrontation with the Soviet Union was looking increasingly likely. If that happened the RAF’s Mosquito night fighters would prove inadequate against the Tu-4 and with more powerful jet engines now available it was decided to proceed with development of jet night fighters.

De Havilland Vampire NF.10

De Havilland Vampire NF.10

The RAF was not the first air force to contemplate using jet night fighters. The wartime Luftwaffe tested their advanced Messerschmitt Me 262 in the night fighter role producing the Me 262B-1a/U-1 and these scored a handful of kills against RAF night bombers. In the late 1940s the RAF decided that an interim jet powered night fighter based on the jets already in service should be developed pending the development and introduction of a dedicated new aircraft. The De Havilland company had already produced a jet powered night fighter by mating the radar, equipment and cockpit from the Mosquito to a Vampire airframe. This produced the Vampire NF.10 which was primarily for the export market but with an embargo in place against its main customer, Egypt, the RAF decided to take them on and this became the first operational RAF jet night fighter in 1951. The RAF was not overly impressed by it however and it was seen as a short term solution until a more powerful jet powered Gloster Meteor could be produced in sufficient numbers. This actually put the Vampire NF.10 in the unenviable position of being an interim aircraft until the “interim night fighter”, the Meteor, became available.

Meteor T.7

Meteor T.7

Gloster had begun work on a night fighter version of the Meteor as far back as 1946 when the RAF issued specification F44/46 calling for studies in to future night fighter designs. The natural starting point was the Meteor T.7 trainer as this already had provision for a second crewmember. When the RAF became serious about producing a jet night fighter Gloster decided that they were going to start from scratch with a new design that ultimately lead to the Gloster Javelin all-weather fighter series but the RAF needed a powerful night fighter in the interim and so Armstrong-Whitworth were commissioned to produce the Meteor night fighter. Armstrong-Whitworth had extensive experience building Meteors under a sub-contract with Gloster and so the tooling was largely in place. Gloster handed over their own studies and provided them with an early Meteor T.7 to serve as the prototype.


Meteor NF.11

Meteor NF11

To produce the NF.11 the T.7 was modified with an enlarged and lengthened nose to house the AI.10 radar set. This was the same radar set that had guided De Havilland Mosquitoes against the German Luftwaffe in World War Two and was essentially an American SCR-720 set developed for the Northrop P-61 Black Widow. The radar antenna spun around on its vertical axis through an entire 360 degrees 10 times every second while at the same time it slowly nodded up and down to provide altitude coverage between +50 and -20 degrees. This provided the observer with a 150 degree scan in front of the aircraft which produced a c-shaped image on his screen due to the transmitter switching off when it was pointed back towards the aircraft. In order to fit the motor that drove the scanner assembly a small bump under the nose was required and this became one of the distinguishing features of this variant. This set had a range of almost 10 miles against a bomber sized target when atmospheric conditions were good.

The radar and accompanying equipment in the rear cockpit added almost 3,000lbs to the weight of the aircraft and this required structural and aerodynamic changes to compensate. The wings were modified to feature the longer outer wings of the high altitude PR.10 variant. The original Meteor day fighters had four 20mm cannons in the nose but the fitting of the radar made it almost impossible to retain the guns here and so they were relocated to the wings just passed engines; a major modification as it meant the access doors had to be designed to help take the stress of high speed flight. The NF.11 had four Hispano V 20mm cannons each with 160 rounds of ammunition. One of the last features added to the aircraft was the fitting of a Meteor F.8 tail which was more streamlined than the T.7.

The modified T.7 prototype first flew in 1949 albeit without radar. The first full NF.11 flew on May 31st 1950 and the RAF was suitably impressed to order 200 examples with service entry beginning in 1951. Pilots transitioning from Mosquitoes were pleased with their new mount which offered height and speed advantages over their wartime aircraft. Pilots coming from day fighter Meteor squadrons were not so impressed however. The aircraft was significantly slower with its Derwent 8 engines taking it to just 578mph compared to the Meteor F.8 which topped out at 616mph. It was nevertheless capable for intercepting the Tu-4 which was seen as its main quarry and so the speed criticism was largely irrelevant.

One thing that was retained from the T.7 that was universally loathed by aircrew, groundcrew and enthusiasts alike was the heavily framed canopy. This was an exceptionally heavy component for its purpose that was awkward to handle and restricted the view outside the cockpit. It’s strange that Gloster adopted this design and no doubt newly qualified pilots were amazed at the view the actual fighter version afforded them after qualifying in the trainer.Gloster Meteor Fireflash NF.11 A Meteor NF.11 conducted the first launch of a British air-to-air missile in 1951 when a modified example fired the first Fairey Fireflash missile.

  • Powerplant: 2x Derwent 8 (3,700lbs thrust each)
  • Max Speed: 541mph
  • Service Ceiling: 40,000ft
  • Length: 49ft 7in (15.09m)
  • Wingspan: 39ft 11in (12.18m)
  • Armament: 4x 20mm Hispano V cannons

Meteor NF.12 

Meteor NF12

As the NF.11 was solidifying itself in service work was underway on a more capable version that featured an Anglicised version of the American APQ-43 radar in an even longer nose. Known as the AI.21 in British service this radar featured a 200kW transmitter gave a range of up to as much as 25 miles (40 km) when conditions permitted. It also included various beacon homing modes, as well as an air-to-surface mode for detecting ships. The Mk.21 differed from its APQ-43 forebear in that it was fitted with a British strobe unit and had variable pulse repetition frequency settings.

To help address the balance issues that resulted from this the tail was given a noticeable extension that had an almost crooked appearance. The new radar offered much improved signal processing over the AI.10 installed in the NF.11 but it was never able to supersede the older model and only 97 were built. To help compensate for the marginal weight increase more powerful Derwent 9 engines were fitted that produced a mere 100lbs of extra thrust each. The NF.12 entered service with the RAF in 1953.

  • Powerplant: 2x Derwent 9 (3,800lbs thrust each)
  • Max Speed: 541mph
  • Service Ceiling: 40,000ft
  • Length: 49ft 7in (15.09m)
  • Wingspan: 39ft 11in (12.18m)
  • Armament: 4x 20mm Hispano V cannons

Meteor NF.13 

The Meteor NF.13 also appeared in 1953 and was essentially a tropicalised version of the NF.11 for use by the Middle East Air Force. In the 1950s the RAF still had huge commitments in the region and with the Soviet Union taking more of an interest in supporting Marxist and anti-western uprisings the need for modern jet night fighters became more evident. The NF.13 was produced by the fitting of enlarged intakes for the Derwent 8 engines that helped compensate for the ambient heat in places such as Aden that reduced thrust in jet aircraft. The aircraft were also fitted with a radio compass to help with navigation over large featureless deserts and to improve crew comfort a cold air unit was fitted that blew cool air in to the cockpit. Forty examples of this version were delivered to the MEAF and they would serve in the Suez War in 1956.


Meteor NF.14

Meteor NF14

The Meteor NF.14 was the definitive night fighter variant of the Meteor. Effectively an updated NF.12 the aircraft finally dispensed with the loathed heavily framed canopy inherited from its Meteor T.7 forebear. Instead a “full blown” two piece canopy was developed that afforded the crew a superb view of the outside world. As well as saving a few pounds in weight and being easier to handle the new canopy was intended to help the crew spot their targets at night and observe their tracer fire more effectively to allow them to make corrections if needed. The aircraft retained the Anglicized APQ-43 radar set designated as the AI.21 from the NF.12.

Despite efforts to save weight the aircraft was at the end of its development life and the Derwent 9 engines couldn’t propel it any faster than 576mph under the best of conditions. By the time the NF.14 was making its presence known in frontline squadron service the Soviets were deploying the Tu-16 “Badger” bomber which was almost 70mph faster than the Meteor making interception nearly impossible. This fact served to spur on development of the Javelin and from 1954 the Meteor night fighter squadrons began to disband and re-equip with new types. The first models to go were the NF.11s which were drawn down between 1954 and 1955 followed by the tropicalized NF.13 variant which left frontline service in 1958. Strangely, two Meteor NF.11 squadrons found a new (albeit short) lease of life in the coastal defence role strafing surface vessels. In the remaining years the aircraft had left it primarily served abroad in areas where the threat level was not as sophisticated as in Europe such as the Far East although night fighter Meteors remained in Germany until 1960.

No.60 Squadron was the last Meteor night fighter squadron, disbanding at RAF Seletar, Singapore in 1961. It therefore also holds the accolade of being the last frontline Meteor fighter squadron in RAF service. In 1969 the Biafran government attempted to smuggle two Meteor NF.14s to the African breakaway republic to help in its war against Nigeria but the effort failed when one crashed in to the sea on its delivery flight while the other was impounded at Bissau in Portuguese Guinea.

  • Powerplant: 2x Derwent 8 (3,700lbs thrust each)
  • Max Speed: 576mph
  • Service Ceiling: 40,000ft
  • Length: 49ft 7in (15.09m)
  • Wingspan: 39ft 11in (12.18m)
  • Armament: 4x 20mm Hispano V cannons