My very first sighting of a jet aircraft

Do you remember seeing your very first jet aircraft? Mine was a Gloster Meteor, as it flew low over Bristol one morning in late 1944. It seemed so strange then, to see a plane flying along, making more or less usual aeroplane noises, with perhaps a little more ‘roar’ than usual and traveling at what seemed like a very good speed, but with no propellers attached to the two engines!

Little did I realise what a revolution I was watching, as that little, (by today’s standards), plane flew over. A whole new world of travel was about to begin, where trips from, for instance, London to Melbourne would take as little as twenty hours, instead of the several days as it had up until then.

But when I saw that Meteor, jet propulsion was only being used on military aircraft, with the Germans also making a model of their own, the Messerschmitt Me 262, very similar in appearance to the Meteor and actually produced a year or so earlier than its English competitor. It was to be several more years before de Havilland produced the Comet DH106 airliner, possibly the most beautiful aircraft ever built but also, as it turned out, one of the most dangerous, with several breaking up in the air because of metal fatigue, causing considerable loss of life.

But back towards the end of the war the Meteor lead the way in England, closely followed a short while later by the de Havilland DH100 Vampire, another very pretty aircraft preceding their much larger Comet by several years. The Vampire was of a very different design to the Meteor, which had a more or less familiar aircraft shape with a single fuselage and two engines, one mounted on each wing. The Vampire however was of a double boom fuselage design and was powered by a single jet engine mounted below the pilot in the small central main body. Both aircraft were very successful in helping speed the end of World War II and they went on to serve all branches of the British Military, right up to the eighties, with several versions of each being built for use as fighters, fighter-bombers, naval aircraft and, finally as trainers for new pilots before progressing to more modern makes.

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By far the largest jet aircraft from the time just after the war was the Hawker Siddeley Avro Vulcan, which went into service in 1956 and was pensioned off in 1984. The Vulcan was an enormous, (by the standards of the time), delta-wing aircraft, powered by four Rolls-Royce engines buried within the fuselage. I remember one flying over me once, as an exhibition flight at a motorcycle moto-cross grand prix at Farleigh Castle near Bath in England. It was flying at about a hundred feet and its sheer size practically blotted out the sunshine – it was like an eclipse of the sun lasting about two seconds! And the noise, from those extremely powerful Rolls-Royce engines was bordering on the terrifying, especially as no one, apart from the organisers, were aware of the plane’s approach!

Nowadays of course, we are accustomed to enormous airliners, capable of carrying five hundred passengers and powered by engines so large you can stand up inside one, but I still can’t help harbouring nostalgia for the early forerunners that proved the system before the world moved on to bigger and better! It’s hard to imagine what might be coming next in the field of air travel – with each leap forward we seem to think that is about as far as we can go, but each time the designers come up with something new. I’m sure we haven’t reached the limit of what flight can offer yet, by a long chalk!


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