Gloster Meteor F8 "Prone Pilot"
|Type||Fighter Gloster Meteor F8|
|First flight||10 February 1954|
|Owners and operators||Royal Air Force|
A much modified Gloster Meteor F8 fighter, the "prone position/prone pilot" Meteor, was used to evaluate the effects of acceleration/inertia-induced forces while flying in a prone position. Along with the Reid and Sigrist R.S.4 "Bobsleigh", the Gloster Meteor was engaged in a proof-of-concept experimental programme that proved in practice that the difficulties of operating the controls of the aircraft outweighed the advantages of sustaining higher "g" effects.
Design and development
In the early 1950s the adoption of a prone position cockpit in future combat aircraft designs appeared attractive for two reasons. Firstly, such a configuration enabled the frontal area of the airframe to be reduced and therefore reduced drag. Secondly, aircrew can withstand greater inertial forces if not sitting upright, a vital consideration given the need for jet combat aircraft to manoeuvre at ever increasing speeds. While the Reid and Sigrist R.S.4 "Bobsleigh" explored low speed performance 1951–1956, the Royal Air Force soon also needed a higher performance concept aircraft.
The Bristol Aeroplane Company sought to exploit these advantages by incorporating a prone pilot position in its proposal for a rocket-powered fighter, the Bristol Type 185. In order to establish the viability of a prone pilot cockpit, the RAF Institute of Aviation Medicine required a jet aircraft that could be flown in experimental flight tests. The last production Meteor F8 WK935 built by Armstrong-Whitworth was selected for modification and joined the Institute of Aviation Medicine in autumn 1954.
Armstrong-Whitworth carried out all the modifications as an "in-house" project. A standard fighter cockpit was retained; WK935 was never flown solo from the radically modified front cockpit, which incorporated a custom-built couch, offset tiny control column, and suspended rear pedals. A Meteor NF 12 tail unit was substituted for the usual F8 tail. The Armstrong-Whitworth Chief Test Pilot Eric George Franklin carried out the test flights.
The prone pilot's emergency escape involved an extremely complex procedure which included jettisoning the rudder pedals, crawling backward to an escape hatch and retracting the nose wheel. Fortunately, this system was never used.
Testing and evaluation
Following some 55 hours of flight testing over 99 flights, the results were inconclusive; although the prone position concept was feasible, the development of special aviation clothing (g-suits) offered a simpler solution to the problem of counteracting inertial forces, and the prone position Meteor was no longer needed. Although prone pilots were able to control the aircraft as well as a standard Meteor, the extreme forward position with limited rear view presented a problem in mock combat with conventional aircraft.
Specifications (Meteor F.8 modified)
Data from The Great Book of Fighters
- Crew: 2
- Length: 52 ft 5 in (15.9 m)
- Wingspan: 37 ft 2 in (11.32 m)
- Height: 13 ft 0 in (3.96 m)
- Wing area: 350 ft² (32.52 m²)
- Empty weight: 10,684 lb (4,846 kg)
- Loaded weight: 15,700 lb (7,121 kg)
- Powerplant: 2 × Rolls-Royce Derwent 8 turbojets, 3,500 lbf (15.6 kN) each
- Maximum speed: Mach 0.82, 600 mph at 10,000 ft (965 km/h at 3,050 m)
- Range: 600 mi (965 km)
- Service ceiling: 43,000 ft (13,100 m)
- Rate of climb: 7,000 ft/min (35.6 m/s)
- Wing loading: 44.9 lb/ft² (149 kg/m²)
- Thrust/weight: 0.45
- Time to altitude: 5.0 min to 30,000 ft (9,145 m)
- No armament was carried
- Aircraft of comparable role, configuration and era
- Jones 1998, p. 156.
- Young 1985, p. 83.
- Green and Swanborough 2001
- Ashley, Glenn. Meteor in Action. Carrollton, Texas: Squadron/Signal Publications Inc., 1995. ISBN 0-89747-332-9.
- Bowyer, Chaz. Gloster Meteor. London: Ian Allen Ltd., 1985. ISBN 0-7110-1477-9.
- Butler, Tony. Gloster Meteor. Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, United Kingdom: Hall Park Books Ltd., 2001. ISBN 1-85780-230-6.
- Caruana, Richard J. and Richard A. Franks. The Gloster & AW Meteor. Kingsway, Bedford, United Kingdom: SAM Publications, 2004. ISBN 0-9533465-8-7.
- Green, William and Gordon Swanborough. The Great Book of Fighters. St. Paul, Minnesota: MBI Publishing, 2001. ISBN 0-7603-1194-3.
- Jones, Barry. Gloster Meteor. Ramsbury, Marlborough, Wiltshire, United Kingdom: The Crowood Press Ltd., 1998. ISBN 1-86126-162-4.
- Young, Michael G. "Prone Meteor." Aviation News, Vol. 13, No. 22, 22 March–4 April 1985.
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