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Gloster Meteor T.7

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Published on Jun 15, 2015

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Copyright © 2015 Malcolm Auld

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When WA591 returned to the sky after a 20-year restoration it became the world's oldest flyable British jet aircraft.

Built by Gloster Aircraft at Hucklecote, Gloucestershire in mid 1949 it was delivered to the Royal Air Force on September 2nd. The Central Fighter Establishment at RAF West Raynham was the first to take WA591 on charge prior to handing it over to 226OCU at RAF Stradishall, Suffolk on October 31.

Learning to fly early jets was a hazardous pastime and WA591 suffered its first flying accident on January 12, 1950 – just 73 days after it joined the Operational Conversion Unit! Initially the damage was classed as ‘Cat 3R’ but this was later amended to ‘Cat 4R’ and the aircraft was returned to Glosters for repairs. WA591 did not return to service until November 16.

Four days later it was allocated to 203 Advanced Flying School (AFS) at RAF Driffield, Yorkshire and this time it lasted nearly a year before it suffered another ‘Cat 4R’ flying accident and was returned to Glosters for yet more repairs. This time it was repaired by May 14, 1952 and the following day it was reallocated to 208 AFS at RAF Merryfield, Somerset.

On March 10, 1954 WA591 was reassigned to 215 AFS at RAF Finningley, Yorkshire but on August 6 it suffered yet another Cat 4R flying accident. Again it was despatched to Glosters and repairs were completed on June 30, 1954 – at which point WA591 was sent to 33MU at RAF Lyneham, Wiltshire for storage.

On December 9, 1954 the aircraft was allocated once again, this time to 12 FTS at Weston Zoyland, Somerset, with whom it served until June 17, 1955 when it was sent to 38MU for refurbishment before returning to 12 FTS.

February 27, 1956 saw another Cat 4 accident and this time the airframe was despatched to A V Row for repairs – which were completed on July 25. The following day it was sent to 12MU at RAF Kirkbride, Cumbria with whom it stayed until March 16, 1959 when it returned to 33MU at Lyneham. A few months later, on June 29, WA591 was assigned to the RAF College of Air Warfare at RAF Manby, Lincolnshire where it was one of 14 Meteor T.7s on strength.

A further period of storage at 33MU (Lyneham) and 5MU (Kemble) followed from January 1961 until the Meteor was assigned to 5 FTS at RAF Oakington, Cambridgeshire on January 25, 1962. Its stay was short however as it returned to RAF Driffield – this time with 8 FTS – on February 27 before heading back to RAF Manby on August 13.

During WA591s time at RAF Manby it suffered another flying accident, this time incurring Cat 3 damage on July 10, 1963 and being sent to 63MU for repairs. It returned to Manbybut was finally declared obsolete in 1965 and allocated to 5MU Apprentice School at Kemble for ground instruction.

WA591 subsequently found itself on the gate at RAF Woodvale, Cheshire and was rescued in 1995 by Meteor Flight – a group of enthusiasts formed by Colin Rhodes.

Restoration work began in earnest at Yatesbury and was progressing well until Colin was tragically killed in a freak accident on August 8, 1997. Restoration of WA591 continued and in 2007 Air Atlantique’s Classic Flight agreed to help fund a fulltime engineer to speed up the progress. The aircraft moved to Kemble at the end of 2008 and has been funded and supported by Classic Flight ever since.

Since its return to airworthiness WA591 has become an airshow favourite as well as becoming a training aircraft for a new generation of classic jet pilots. It's fitting that it should resume the very role that it began back in 1959.

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