The short operational career of the Gloster Pioneer F.Mk.1

Started by simmie, February 17, 2009, 09:40:34 AM

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The operational career of one small aircraft very rarely has the massive effect than that of the Gloster G.60 Pioneer F.Mk.1.  Although only in service for around 15 months, and never facing the enemy in combat, it helped to advance the cause of the jet engine massively, laying wasted the last official opposition and creating a knowledgebase that is still being mined to this day.

As is often the case, it all began with a set of fortunate happenstance. Frank Whittle had had personal contact on a number of occasions with George Carter, Gloster's chief Designer

In March 1938 the Air Ministry awarded Power Jets Ltd a contract for a flight ready engine, and also started looking for a company to build an aircraft for it to power.  Gloster's were fortunate that at this time there design office was in a period of slackening work load.  Carter travelled to Lutterworth and was permitted to observe an engine test underway, he began design work immediately upon his return to Gloster's at Hucclecote.

Contract SB/3229 was awarded to Gloster's for the construction of an aircraft to specification E.28/39 on 3rd February 1940.  The second paragraph of the contract stated that "The primary object of this aeroplane will be to flight test the engine installation but the design will be based on the requirements for a fixed gun interceptor fighter as far as the limitations of the size and weight imposed by the power plant permit.  The armament equipment called for in this specification will not be required for the initial trials, but he contractor will be required to make provision in the design for the weight and space occupied by these items".  This equipment included 4* 0.303" machine guns, wing mounted with 2000 round of ammunition.

The airframe was laid out to be small, compact and simple.  A low winged monoplane with a single fin and rudder.  The centrally mounted engine was fed by nose pitol inlet, the ducts passing either side of the cockpit and the 81 Gal fuel tank, before feeding the engine sealed in its plenum chamber.  The exhaust passed straight out the rear of the fuselage.  Carter decided to accept the power loss of the long duct instead of the uncertainty of the air flow around a horizontal tail suspended between twin booms.

The initial construction of both prototypes (W4041 and W4046) was initiated at the Experimental Department at Hucclecote, before the threat of enemy action forced a dispersal of W4041 to the premises of Regent Motors, Cheltenham.  From, there W4041 was taken by road back to Hucclecote for initial taxi trials on the 7th April 1941.  A further move, again by road, to RAF Cranwell for flight trials followed.  The first flight took place on the 15th May 1941.

On the 12th January 1942, Sir Henry Tizard, Chief Scientific Advisor to the RAF, wrote that "Consideration should be given to the possible use of the experimental single engined machine (E.28/39) as a fighter".  Churchill agreed, after studying the latest ULTRA intercepts and reports from agents in southern Sweden of trials at Rostock-Marienehe, on the Baltic, of the Heinkel He 280, "The Tizard Note" as it became know was stamped "Action This Day".

The immediate response to this new urgency was to increase the pace of construction of the second prototype W.4046. This was soon followed by an order of a further 9 copies of the second airframe to be constructed in the same dispersed facilities as the first two aircraft.

W4046 took to the air 4th March 1942 from Hucclecote, and joined the first aircraft in an accelerated flight trial programme.  Meanwhile the Air Ministry began the search for a suitable base for the new trials unit.  It was required to be far enemy interference and isolated for security.  But, it also required access to major transport routes for the supply of personnel, spares and regular updates.

The search resulted in the selection of RAF Edzell (45/NO630690) as the base for the new squadron.  Situated 8 miles inland from the North-East coast of Scotland its sole occupant was No.44 MU, although it was also used as a landing ground by 8 SFTS at RAF Montrose (54/NO725600).

All the new squadron's personnel were routed through and technically assigned to RAF Montrose, which being on the LNER East Coast Mainline, made the delivery of spares easier.  Anything that had to be moved more urgently could be handled through the station at Laurencekirk village.

Additional hangerage had already been constructed in January 1941 (2 K types and 1 L type).  The first of the two runways was completed 1st April 1942, just in time for the arrival of W4046, temporarily wearing the assigned squadron codes (XX-A) to attend the formation ceremony for 606 Squadron (County of Angus) RAuxAF.  W4046 returned to Edgehill after the ceremony to join W4041 in flight test.

Although no Photographs are know to exist, this profile of W4046/G approximates its appearance at the time of its arrival at RAF Edzell, based on eyewitnesses.

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The first aircraft actually assigned to the squadron on a permanent basis was the 3rd aircraft constructed, W4049/G (XX-B) arrived directly from Edgehill after completing its first flight on the 15th May 1942.  This was the first aircraft to be fitted out with its specified armament of 4* 0.303" machine guns and a GM-1 reflector sight, and it was initially used for firing trials against airborne targets provided by No.2 flying Instructors School at RAF Montrose.

In August 1942, the aircraft was dismantled, crated and transported by road to the Clyde.  Here it was loaded aboard the RMS Queen Elizabeth for transport to Canada for cold weather trials.  During the course of these trials it was initially found to be difficult to get the engine to start in the cold weather.  It was necessary to provide warm air to the rear bearing of the engine, especially as temperatures dropped during the winter.  The aircraft was operated from a number of different stations including RCAF Claresholm, Alberta and RCAF St Honore, Quebec.

Upon the completion of these trials, in spring 1943, the aircraft was once again dismantled and moved by rail to Wright Field, Ohio.  Here, the aircraft was demonstrated to senior USAAC officers and was involved with comparison trials with a Bell XP-59A Airacomet.  In addition, the aircraft was involved in attempts to increase its fuel capacity by trialling under wing tip drop tanks.  These to be problematic as they initially failed to separate together, resulting in asymmetric handling.  The fault was finally traced to poorly installed wiring in the port wing.  This aircraft was handed over to the USAAC in June 1943.  Its ultimate fate is unknown at this time.

This first profile is W4049/G at the time of the Tip tank trials at Wright Field.

The second shows W4049/G after she was handed over to the USAAC and transferred to the Muroc Dry Lake facility.  Note it is still wearing its British serial number, there is no record of any US issued.
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The 4th aircraft to be delivered was W4053/G (XX-C) which arrived at Edzell 29th June 1942.  This aircraft arrived with the newly developed ventral tank.  This consisted of a ½ tear drop shaped installation, attached by 4 bolts under the aircrafts centre section.  After completing a number of longer duration flights across country, escorted at all times by a Hurricane borrowed from RAF Montrose defence flight.  After approximately 3 months of this the aircraft was returned to Hucclecote to have the machine guns removed and replaced by a pair of 20mm long barrel Hispano cannons with 120 round magazines.  This resulted in the wing gaining a bulge similar to the Spitfires.  Firing trials were again carried out against airborne targets.  However, these were cut short when the aircraft was lost, due to bird strike, in May 1943.  The aircraft had been investigating the possibility of deck trials at nearby RNAS Arbroath/HMS Condor (54/NO620435), home of 767 Sqn Deck Landing School.  The pilot escaped, after ditching in the sea away from the town, after a Sea Gull was sucked in to the engine after an attempted simulated carrier take off.  The wreck was quickly recovered from the sea, but was declared a write-off, the remains being destroyed for security purposes.

The 5th aircraft, W4057/G (XX-D) arrived in mid August 1942.  Its ventral tank was removed, cut down and modified by the squadrons own personnel too allow the carriage of a number of practice bombs.  It then carried out a series of bombing trials, both at high and low level.  While aiming was difficult with GM-1 sight, the trials proved to be most successful and were extended to include the installation of a GM-II sight and dive bombing.  It also gained a similar cannon installation to W4053/G following its loss.  Some Army Co-operation and Close Air Support work was undertaken with the Commandos training in the Spean Bridge area.

This aircraft was forced back to Hucclecote in January 1943 after sustaining damage while carrying out operations from a grass field.  The nose wheel dug in after breaking trough into a rabbit warren following a landing at Stravithie, Fife (59/NO540125).  Upon its return to Edzell in July in now sported a clear vision bubble canopy, which it retained till it was declared surplice in September 1944.  It was leased back to Glosters for an extended trials programme, with W4041/G and W4046/G till after the end of the war.

With the end of hostilities, this aircraft was send off to tour Australia, Canada and New Zealand, following a request from the three air forces.  While it was there the aircraft it was demonstrated at a number of airbases around each country, introducing them to the new power plant and its particular complications.

This profile shows W4057 while on her tour of Australia, Canada and New Zealand in 1945/1947.
It still wears then crest and flashes of 606 Sqn.
Reality is for people who can't handle Whif!!

Now with more WHATTHEF***!! than ever before!


The 6th aircraft, W4061/G (XX-E) was to spend very little of its life at Edzell.  Its first flight occurred on the 30th of September 1942.  It was almost a month before it arrived with the squadron as it had encountered instrumentation difficulties during its shakedown trials.

Almost as soon as it had arrived at Edzell, at the end of October, it was dismantled and packed up for the long sea voyage to North Africa, arriving in Alexandria early January 1943; it was to carry out hot and high trials.  After reassembly, the aircraft suffered the first of its long catalogue of engine difficulties due to sand ingestion during ground running.  This resulted in the engine having to be flown by RAF Avro York back to the U.K for urgent inspection, repair and rectification.  The RAF engine fitters and Whittle technicians, with the aircraft, began work on the spare engine to trying and bodge an improved filter for its rear bearing.  This was partially successful, and at least allowed the trials programme to be started.  It took 2 months for a new engine to arrive from the U.K, with a more effective solution.  The spare engine was found to have suffered compressor damage from sand ingestion and the rear bearing was only fit for scrap.

These trials produced much useful data about the performance of jet engines at high temperatures and the effects of sand ingestion.  The aircraft was eventually to return to the U.K, but it was declared surplus and scrapped in July 1944.

The profile shows W4061/G at the time of the hot weather trials in Egypt.
Reality is for people who can't handle Whif!!

Now with more WHATTHEF***!! than ever before!


The 7th aircraft, W4066/G (XX-F), was to be the completed as Glosters was by now fully involved in the Meteor programme.  Gloster management had taken the decision to ask the Air Ministry to terminate the contract early due to the pressure of work.

The aircraft first flew on the 24th of November 1942, and although assigned to 606 Sqn, it was never to visit Edzell.  It was to spend its entire service career attached to 541(PR) Sqn at RAF Benson.

The aircraft was to only one to be fitted with a pressurised cockpit, also, its ventral tank had been modified to carry 3 camera, a 14" F.24 at the front and two 5" F.24s obliquely to the sides.

Painted to same high altitude blue as PR Spitfires, it was to carry out high altitude photo reconnaissance trials.  The imagery produced was found to much clear than that from the Spitfires due to much less vibration.  The aircraft was used to carry out a photographic survey of the country to help in post-war rebuilding.  One of is last sorties was to carry of high altitude over flights of the Normandy beachheads area starting on D+10, once air superiority was assured.

With the rapid progress that Glosters were making with the Meteor started to result in the F.Mk.1s entering flight test, so 606 Sqn started to wind down its activities at RAF Edzell until it was finally stood down 9th October 1943.  The squadron standard was taken off to RAF Cranwell to await its future reformation.

The profile shows W4066/G while attached to 541(PR) Sqn at RAF Benson circa mid 1944
Reality is for people who can't handle Whif!!

Now with more WHATTHEF***!! than ever before!


I must check my Dad's log book for W4066/G as he was with 541 at Benson in 1944. ;)

Mind you, his attitude was that the RAF started to go down the pan when they took the top wings off, and things REALLY went to pot when they took the fans off the front! :)
Kit's Rule 1 ) Any aircraft can be improved by fitting longer wings, and/or a longer fuselage
Kit's Rule 2) The backstory can always be changed to suit the model

...and I'm not a closeted 'Take That' fan, I'm a REAL fan! :)




Great stuff Simmie!

A brilliant idea with a well written indepth backstory and excellent profiles to boot. Top job!  :cheers:

It seems so real this qaulifies as a 'should of been' might have made the Meteor programme a bit quicker and got the RAF more jet minded than it was.


Thanks for the comments.

Just happy it came out as well as it did.

There should have bee a Squadron crest in the first installment, but I couldn't get it to appear.

Hopefully here it is.

Reality is for people who can't handle Whif!!

Now with more WHATTHEF***!! than ever before!


Loving the paint schemes but don't you think they would have changed the canopy, tail and wing shape like they did to the meteor?
Don't let ageing get you down, it's too hard to get back up