The final flight of a Gloster Javelin was completed on 24 January 1975. Fighter All Weather 9 XH897 landed at RAF Duxford to join the Imperial War Museum Collection from its previous role with the Aircraft and Armament Experimental establishment at Boscombe Down, Wiltshire. At the A&AEE, Gloster Javelin XH897 had been mostly used for chase and calibration duties. The twin engined delta winged aircraft would fly alongside newer types so their airspeed indicators could be accurately calibrated against a known target. In this way XH897 helped out on the Shorts SC.9, Concorde and MRCA (Tornado) projects long after the Royal Air Force had retired the Gloster Javelin from squadron service in 1968. Built as an FAW.7 XH897 was had previously been delivered for service to 25 Squadron at RAF Waterbeach on 30 December 1958. Later converted to FAW.9, XH897 also flew with 33 and 5 Squadrons.
This feature is based on an article written by noted Gloster Aircraft historian Derek N. James, who went from being an engineering apprentice before being personally involved in many aspects of the design, production and marketing of the aircraft and other products of the Hucclecote production lines during his 23 years association with the Gloster Aircraft Company. The article was published in Aircraft Illustrated magazine of April 1975.
“My Lord, what a great beast!” This expression of surprise by a member of the 1950 Empire Test Pilot’s School (ETPS) course on seeing the Gloster GA5 mock up was like many others. The sight of this big aeroplane always seemed to produce comments invoking the deity. It was one of my earliest encounters, too, with the wooden masterpiece, built by Gloster Aircraft Company’s Experimental Department “chippies” at the little Bentham factory some five miles from the main production plant at Hucclecote. The GA5, to be named Javelin, was a big aeroplane but the mock up, raised clear of the ground on jacks, looked even bigger inside its hangar. At the time it carried a large torpedo-shaped fairing at the junction of the massive swept fin and the high set tailplane, and this feature plus the thick wing and long nose gave it an ungainly appearance which was not so apparent when the GA5 materialised in metal. The group of pilots from ETPS were on what was called their “intercourse visit” to Gloucester. It took place about midway through their tour at Farnborough and consisted of day long visits to the Gloster, Rotol, Smiths and Dowty factories for technical briefings, all followed by a giant party at the end. The 1950 group had earlier seen the Meteor NF11 [developed from Gloster’s Meteor T7 trainer] prototypes at Armstrong Whitworth’s Baginton factory and were, not unnaturally, taken aback when they saw its all-weather successor at Bentham. One thing which set them talking was the thick black line drawn from the leading to the trailing edge of each of the mock-up’s wings about two feet from the tip. This showed where the rotating wing tip control surfaces would have been if this system had been chosen instead of conventional ailerons.
The next milestone in the GA5/Javelin programme I recall was the difficult task of moving WD804, the prototype, from Bentham to the Moreton Valence airfield about eight miles south of Gloucester. Components had been made at Hucclecote and built up into major sub assemblies at Bentham, and then into a complete airframe before being taken, in sections, to the airfield by road transport. Today the M5 goes straight down what was the Moreton Valence main runway, but back in July 1951 the route via Gloucester and Quedgeley was more tortuous though less busy. We moved WD804 on a Sunday, not so much to be in accord with the old adage “The better the day, the better the deed” but largely to avoid traffic and prying eyes of the public – who should have been in church anyway. The local papers had got wind off the move but it all passed off quietly enough. On arrival the Queen Mary vehicles carrying the GA5 were popped into the Flight Development hangar where the final assembly was hidden behind screens until the completed aeroplane was pushed out for its first airing, photography and engine runs. But with a main road only 100 yards from the runway threshold you can’t for long keep secret an aeroplane the size, shape and sound of the GA5, and at least twice during the fairly extensive taxiing trials our vigilant company policemen discovered small boys lurking in the long grass at the edge of the airfield, each armed with a camera, binoculars and notebooks. The first flight was one of those “on-off-on again” events and I almost missed seeing it. Fortunately a telephone call from Joyce Robinson, one of Gloster’s air traffic controllers at Moreton Valence, alerted me mid afternoon on 26 November 1951, and after a swift car trip with Stuart Brander, the company’s publicity manager, we arrived just in time to see Bill Warterton, Chief Test Pilot, getting airborne in WD804.
Escaping oil usually is something to be avoided in aeroplanes, but on that flight it was most useful.In the GA5’s Sapphire engines the centre and rear bearings of the rotating assembly were lubricated on the total loss system where the oil was allowed to escape to atmosphere through two vents exhausting just aft of the jet pipe nozzles and below the rudder. It was this oil, streaked across the bottom part of the rudder, which showed the cause of severe vibration Waterton had experienced during his 34 minute first flight. Interference between the jet efflux and the airflow over the rudder was graphically illustrated by those oil streaks. A mod [ification] was immediately introduced to lengthen the jet pipe’s fairing and so separate the hot gas and air flows more effectively.
I recall Bill Waterton’s comments as we clustered around him to enquire how the flight had gone, and what it was like to handle a 30 000 lb fighter with a delta wing. The GA5 was the first delta winged aeroplane to have a conventionally trimmed tailplane and elevators, and was also the first to carry flaps. Nevertheless, his reply could not have been more succinct. “Oh, she goes up, she goes down”. Later he wrote in WD804’s pilot’s notes “the GA5 has proven relatively viceless with excellent stall warning and no real peculiarities and in many ways not unlike a Mark 1 Anson.” I’m not sure if that was a compliment or not.
That was our first flight. And our first prang? That occurred on Sunday 29 June 1952, seven months and 99 flights later. Bill Waterton was flying the prototype on a series of high speed runs over Oxfordshire when both elevators broke away following violent flutter. Luckily he was able to retain a measure of control in pitch by means of the variable incidence tailplane. The electrically operated screw jack which moved the tailplane was controlled by a large wheel on the port side of the cockpit – the throttle side. As it was intended only for trimming purposes the wheel needed a good deal of turning to effect large changes in pitch and the response rate was slow. The handwheel was fitted, incidentally, because it gave a better indicator of the amount of trim applied than a trim button on the control column. This button was fitted in production Javelins however.
Bill gained height, carefully co-ordinating the rotary movements of the handwheel and the lateral movements of the control column, with a bootful of rudder at the appropriate moments. He called Moreton Valence tower and reported what had happened, and after making some exploratory “landings” on some convenient clouds, during which he decided that he would need to make a very high speed landing in order to maintain control, he elected to head for the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down where he knew a 10 000′ long runway awaited him. [By comparison, the runway at Moreton Valence was around 6 600′ long and in 2017 the main runway at Gloucestershire Airport, Staverton is 4 611′ long]
He started his approach many miles out and he seemed to be putting it all together correctly, until WD804 developed some drift during the final phase and after a “hot” landing at around 150 knots, the undercarriage collapsed, resulting in a long slide. Even then, after successfully getting himself and the GA5 down virtually intact, Bill faced one more ordeal. As he tried to motor back the cockpit canopy it jammed part way open. However, he managed to heave it back far enough for him to get his not inconsiderable bulk over the side and walk away from it. For his skill in saving the aircraft and its valuable auto-observer records of all that had taken place during the flight, and for “courage beyond the call of duty”, Bill Waterton was awarded the George Medal. [Just over two years later, on 6 October 1954, Fairey’s test pilot Peter Twiss would make a similarly perilous landing at Boscombe Down to save his pioneering Fairey Delta 2 WG774. Twiss was awarded The Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air.]
This quite serious setback to the GA5’s flight test programme didn’t upset the Ministry of Supply(MoS) because just eight days later the aeroplane was ordered into production, with super priority classification, and named Javelin. One of the early criticisms of the GA5 had been its comparatively small internal fuel capacity of 765 gallons ( although things improved later on) and when the name Javelin was chosen some cynic remarked “But a javelin is along range fighting weapon”! Later versions of this big all-weather fighter carried up to 995 gallons internally; we managed to pour nearly 1 100 gallons into the Mark 3 trainer, and all could carry another 500 gallons in two ventral drop tanks which quickly earned themselves the nickname “bosom tanks”.
We had hoped to fly the first GA5 in the 1952 Society of British Aircraft Constructors (SBAC) Display at Farnborough and the loss of WD804, despite the MoS order, I believe, nevertheless stimulated the company to greater efforts and we flew the second prototype. WD808, on 21 August 1952 just in time to log the necessary ten hours to qualify for a place in the display. Waterton’s programme was necessarily limited but he gave us an impressive display of low altitude, low speed flying, rocking almost vertically from one wing tip to the other in the way which was copied by the [McDonnell Douglas F-15] Eagle and [Saab] Viggen in the 1974 Show. I was watching the flying from the Gloster chalet when Bill rolled the aeroplane. Air Vice Marshal Sir Richard Atcherley was one of the company’s guests on that day and “Batchy” had us all in fits with his loud comment “My God, it’s like watching the bloody Albert Memorial roll over!”
During March 1953, as part of the evaluation of various foreign aircraft by the US Air Force under the Mutual Defence Aid Pact. Colonels Dick Johnston and “Pete” Everest visited Glosters to fly the Javelin. Both were experienced pilots who had flown at speeds well beyond Mach 1.0. They praised the Javelin’s take-off and landing performance and were impressed by the high standards of engineering but criticised the internal fuel capacity. The following year a Belgian Air Force evaluation team came to Moreton Valence, flew and liked the aeroplane and there were high hopes that we should build some for export, but none of these exercises bore fruit.
For one reason or another the Javelin got a drubbing from sections of the national press, one of which stated that the aeroplane could not fly supersonically. This thoroughly upset the Gloster pilots who, led by Dicky Martin, Bill Waterton’s successor, decided to refute this claim in the most practical manner open to them. A few nights later the City and Fleet Street areas of London were shaken by the unmistakable double bang of an aeroplane exceeding sonic speed. The source, it was later revealed, was a Javelin on a routine night test flight from Moreton Valence. The pilot had had some trouble with his oxygen mask supply and in leaning forward to adjust the controls on the instrument panel had “inadvertently entered a shallow dive” and had “accidentally exceeded the speed of sound”. There were apologies all round, undisguised in the Gloster camp and an end to the “only subsonic” gibes.
On 11 June 1953 we lost Peter Lawrence, one of the company’s test pilots, when he crashed in WD808 at Flax Bourton, near Bristol, after experiencing super stall conditions. Apparently, flying with the centre of gravity (CG) much further aft than ever before, the aeroplane settled into a completely stable nose-up attitude at about 11 000′. According to the auto-observer trace recovered from from the wreckage, Peter had tried all combinations of control surface movements and differential power settings during his very rapid descent, but had been unable to regain control. The trace also showed that there was no airspeed recorded during this 60 second descent. Photographs of the wreckage showed that the aircraft had come down vertically, in a flat attitude, because two fence posts only a foot or so behind and in front of the wing were still erect while the post between them was embedded in the fuselage.
But it was not all gloom at Glosters. By 1954 we were beginning to see a lot of Javelin components in the factory and a good deal of flying was being accomplished. To show the World that, despite these losses, production was getting under way, it was decided to fly five Javelins at the SBAC Display in September 1954. Three prototypes, WT827, WT830 and WT836, plus two Mark 1 aircraft XA544 and XA546, were chamfered up ready for the event, which was to include a fly past of all five aeroplanes. One difficulty was that, whilst Glosters had the Javelins, there were not enough company pilots with sufficient experience on type for display formation flying. However, two RAF pilots, Flt Lt I.R. Webster and Flt Lt P. Varley who had flown Javelins at Boscombe Down, were seconded for this duty, and joined Dicky Martin, Geoff Worrall and Sqn Ldr Peter Scott, the project pilot, for the display.
Unserviceability and bad weather limited the amount of pre-display practice and it was not until the evening of Thursday 2 September 1954, only three days before the all-weather quintet flew in formation at Farnborough, that all five got airborne together. At the show the formation flew on only the first two days, after which three aeroplanes returned to Moreton Valence to carry on with the development flying programme.
On 22 July 1954 the first production Javelin flew. It was the first of 40 Fighter All Weather Mark 1 aircraft to be built. A lot went to numbers 46 and 87 Squadrons of the Royal Air Force but eleven aircraft were kept for company trials of various equipment. And the things we and the Ministry Establishments hung on, under over and inside those aeroplanes! Missiles, tail parachutes and bumper bars, leading edge slats, reheated Sapphire and Avon engines were a few of the pieces of hardware which the Javelins took aloft on test.
The first overseas visit for the Javelin was the Paris Air Show at Le Bourget in June 1955. In those days, sensibly I think, the flying programme was limited to the last two days. Geoff Worrall flew over in XA556, a Mark 1 aeroplane, for the Friday in preparation for the Saturday and Sunday displays. During his 10 minute slot in the first day’s programme he had a flare out and the subsequent wet start in the air produced a lot of flame at the business end of the jet pipe fairing. Now, Saturday afternoon was not the best time to organise the air freighting, by what was then British European Airways (BEA), of a replacement fairing from Gloucester to Paris, but |I had a go. At the same time the crew decided to start patching and repairing the damaged parts of the aeroplane. It was just as well that they did for the replacement unit never got off the ground in England, and it was only by a lot of hard work in the hangar quickly put at our disposal through the good offices of our French agents that the Javelin was able to fly in the Sunday display.
Meanwhile, back at home Glosters were determined to get the first deliveries of Javelins to the RAF before the end of the year. We managed it – just. On December 30 1955 three production aeroplanes steamed off from Moreton Valence to fly to 23 Maintenance Unit at Aldergrove, Northern Ireland where they were to be fitted with radar equipment and other kit before issue to 46 Squadron at Odiham [Hampshire] for intensive flying. Thus, once again, a new Gloster fighter began service with the RAF.
The largest number of Javelins to be seen publicly in the air together was at the 1958 SBAC Display. That year the RAF was much in evidence at Farnborough and an impressive part of its to what used to be described as “the greatest show over the earth”, was a massed fly past of 45 Javelins from Fighter Command. As this was not an aerobatic display there was no need for them to fly parallel with the runway; instead they flew head on at the spectators in five stepped up vics of three aircraft each. Their arrival was heralded by that curious throaty howl, so typical of the Javelin, which was a combination of jet noise and an organ like note produced, it was said, by the air flow over the four large 30mm Aden gun ports in the wings. It was this unique noise which earned the Javelin its RAF nickname of the “Harmonious Dragmaster.” As the massed Javelins swept overhead one day a voice in the Gloster chalet rang out “Right, smartly to attention everywhere.” Instantly several people rose to their feet, realised the joke and sat down again. One however remained rigidly upright until the formation had passed by, then he, too, resumed his seat. Such was the effect of 90 Sapphires and 45 Javelins on the various viewers/listeners. At other times during the week the display produced a variety of attractions, ranging from applause to the comment “Lord Almighty, they sound like the last trump on Judgement Day.”
During the 1950s we were not so noise conscious as today. Perhaps after six years of war we were glad to know that all the noise came from friendly aircraft. There was no denying, however, that the Javelin was a rowdy beast, both on the ground and in the air. To minimise annoyance to those living and working near to our two airfields the Gloster pilots and the Flight Test Department always maintained a close liaison with them, particularly with the farmers, clergy and doctors. In this way we could avoid extensive engine running on the ground or stop flying at certain times, or over certain ares, to prevent clashing with funerals, weddings, Sunday services, horse shows, or school outings, for example. During lambing times our pilots tried to keep away from farms where flocks were raised. There had been a few people who had complained about the noise of aircraft, whether they were ours or not, right from the time we started to fly Meteors, and some of these complaints were justified.
On the ground the price of hush was pretty high. Giant engine-silencing pens, able to accommodate the complete Javelin, were built at both airfields. Although de-tuners were used by a number of firms, Glosters were determined to cut the noise, not only from the jet pipes but also the high frequency whine and hiss from the air intakes and the general buzz generated by the airframe. The first pen at Hucclecote cost some £ 25 000 and was put into commission in May 1956, while the second at Moreton Valence followed it soon afterwards. They made life much more tolerable for all our employees, who were nearest to the source of the noise, and for the local population. One piece of fairly useless information we recorded at the time was that each pen used 66 000 bricks, 12 1/2 tons of steel and 1 000 tons of concrete. Of such things silence is made!
At the time Glosters and the Javelin were household names to be conjured with, and we got a steady stream of letters and phone calls from all kinds of organisations and individuals, asking for permission to visit us. Apart from official visitors like the pilots and ground crews of the RAF squadrons and units flying Javelins there were requests and visits from the Air Training Corps, Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (later Women’s Royal Air Force), Royal Observer Corps, police and fire services, local government officers, journalists, careers masters and their pupils and many others. Naturally we varied the tour around the factory and our “chat” to suit the visitors but there was always one thing we kept in. That was Frame 21. It was the massive fabricated structure to which the wing main spar was attached and which carried the majority of the aerodynamic and static loads on the aeroplane. It was shaped like a numeral 8 on its side and it was possible to see it being made from scratch and gradually being built around at practically every stage of the production process as we toured the factory. it was something which could beeasily identified and many visitors took a delight in spotting it as soon as they entered a different workshop.
One of the problems of test flying in South Gloucestershire was that, although the Severn Estuary was a splendid place for doing high speed straight and levels with minimum annoyance, the Green One civil air lane runs east-west over it. This meant that other aircraft had to fly either below 5 000′ or above 25 000′ – the lover and upper limits of the air lane – when travelling north or south anywhere near it. The Severn Wildfowl Trust at Slimbridge, only four miles from Moreton Valence, was another area the pilots always tried to avoid overflying, particularly during certain seasons. On one occasion we received a phone call from Slimbridge to say that one of our aircraft had flown over the Trust’s territory. The pilot’s reply was that while he had no choice at that particular moment, he was also conforming to the pattern and flying left hand circuits while the geese were doing right handed ones. “and they haven’t got VHF either!” However, Javelins, Greylags, Meteors and Brents all managed to circuit-and-survive over a number of years. At least we didn’t lose any aeroplanes that way.
Despite the RAF’s Harmonious Dragmaster nickname, the Javelin was popular with the crews who flew it. One pilot told me that while flying in Cyprus “It was really great to let a Hunter get airborne before you, pass him on the climb and then sit at 45 000′ waiting for him to come staggering up. And don’t forget, we were the only aircraft to carry four missiles and guns.” One can, perhaps, make some allowance for inter-squadron rivalry in this story but there was no doubting the sincerity of the narrator.
We got pretty blase about Javelins in the late 1950s and were eagerly awaiting the arrival in the factory of the new thin-wing supersonic development of the aeroplane. Even the numbers of small boys who wrote to the company for photographs and details of the aeroplane began to tail off. Our most persistent fans were the Dutch youngsters, and I reckon at one time that half the houses in Holland had a Russell Adams photograph of either a Meteor or a Javelin. They worked in groups and over a period of a few months we would get letters and postcards, most written in impeccable English, from Nos 1,2,3 or 7,8,9, 10 and 12 Kanalstraat, for example. Next month it would be another street or another school class in another town. But we answered them all, just in case today’s small boy turned out to be tomorrow’s purchaser of jet fighters. We knew then that we could always do with a friend at court. Little did we know how things would turn out for the British aircraft industry as a whole. What really put the skids under Glosters was the 1957 [Duncan Sandys] Defence White Paper. This meant the end of the company’s plans to build the Olympus powered thin-wing Javelin, parts of which were beginning to be made in the factory. However, while the Gloster team cast around for, and found, other work to fill the workshops, manufacture of the Javelin Fighter (All Weather) Mark 8, the final production variant, went on and was followed by a programme to convert earlier Mark 7 aeroplanes to Mark 8 standard, with the new designation Mark 9.
These last two variants had just about every gadget and device possible. You name it, they had it, it seemed. Two 12 300lb thrust reheated Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire engines, an autopilot with automatic approach and altitude control, auto stabilisers, drooped wing leading edge and vortex generators everywhere! Armament was two 30mm Aden guns in the wings and four Firestreak air-to-air missiles on underwing pylons, which could also accept Microcell rocket pods or 100 gallon drop tanks. The two 250 gallon “bosom tanks” were standard fit, of course. The Javelin Mark 7 and Mark 9 had British built AI 17 radar while the US built AI 22 was fitted in the Mark 8 aeroplanes. Talk about Christmas trees was rife when the fully laden and accoutered Javelin Mark 8 appeared. But there was still one more piece of external hardware to be carried.
Some fairly inconclusive trials of flight refuelling had been carried out a year or so earlier with a Canberra tanker and a Javelin F(AW) 4 fitted with a wing mounted Flight Refuelling probe. I say “inconclusive” but at least they proved that the starboard wing tip was no place to mount the probe. The problem was that, in that position, it was behind the pilot, who found it almost impossible to spear the drogue floating about on the end of the tanker’s refuelling hose some 25′ away to his right and over his shoulder. Thus the final piece of kit to go on 22 Javelin 9s was a 22′ long flight refuelling probe which was mounted along the starboard side of the fuselage, just below the cockpit, looking like a medieval jousting lance. This installation, which was proved on trials with a Valiant tanker, enabled four aircraft of 23 Squadron to fly non-stop from the UK to Singapoer, a distance of some 7 500 miles, by in-flight refuelling from Valiant tankers en route.
For the Guinness Book, not surprisingly the Javelin 9 was the heaviest variant with a maximum overload weight of 19 1/4 tons. Fastest was the Mark 7 which had a sea level top speed of 616 knots (Mach 0.92) and 540 knots (Mach 0.945) at 45 000′ which height it reached after a 6.6 minute climb – after which it could press on up nearly another 10 000′ to its absolute ceiling. There were more Javelin 7s produced, 142 of them, than any other variant. With an overall length of 60′ – all but an inch – the Javelin T Mark 3 two seat trainer was the longest and, because it weighed almost as much as the Mark 9 but powered by un-reheated Sapphires, it was also the slowest climber, taking 22 minutes to clamber up to 45 000′. Once there, however, the view was magnificent through the biggest of the Javelin canopies and the twin periscopes for the back seat instructor which he could use to improve his own view forward on the approach and landing. The Mark 1 and Mark 2, with the same engines incidentally, could power up to that height in 9.8 minutes and could top all other variants with their absolute ceiling of 55 000′.
The most “mixed up” Javelin, known as the Amber Gambler, was XA778, basically a Mark 2 which was used in 1958 for the missile carrying trials. However, later on, we gave it a Mark 7 installation, the sophisticated flying control system of the Mark 8 and added an overall coat of orange dayglo paint before sending it off to Boscombe Down, in 1960, where it was used as a pacer aircraft. There were two historical “last flights” by Javelin 8s during 1960. On 8 April XJ128, the last Gloster aeroplane to be built at Hucclecote, made the last flight from that airfield piloted by Dicky Martin.
On 16 August XJ165, the last aircraft to be built by Glosters, was delivered from Moreton Valence to 41 Squadron at Wattisham. These dates have been confused in the past by a number of people, including the author, and confusion has been compounded by the date of the last delivery of a Javelin 9 whose conversion from a Mark 7 was completed on 6 December 1961. This aeroplane left Glosters on 14 December 1961. The last Javelin flight from Moreton Valence, and thereby the last occasion a Gloster aeroplane flew from a company airfield, was on 25 July 1962. But by then the penultimate blow had been struck, Gloster Aircraft Company had become Whitworth Gloster Aircraft following its merger with Sir W.G. Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft, and by April 1964 it was all over with everything then being only history.