15% DISCOUNT

Gloster Javelin

The short-lived jet that was the last to bear the famous Gloster name

WHILE the Gloster company is renowned for the production of Britain’s first jet, the Meteor, the last commercial plane it produced for the Royal Air Force was a twin-engine all-weather fighter, the Gloster Javelin.

The first design followed an Air Ministry request to aircraft companies in 1947 for a two-seat night fighter that could intercept at a height of up to at least 40,000 feet to counter the threat of nuclear attack by high altitude bombers; a jet that had the capability to reach a height of 45,000 feet ten minutes after first ignition. The aircraft would also need at least two hours’ flight endurance and be able to reach speeds around 600mph.

It was April 1949 that the Ministry of Supply issued requirements to Gloster and de Havilland to construct airworthy prototypes, designer Richard Walker producing the Gloster GA.5 which first flew on November 26, 1951, chief test pilot Bill Waterton at the controls.

A test Gloster Javelin at Farnborough

(A test Gloster Javelin at RAE Farnborough)

Tragedy struck with the second prototype, WD808, Gloster test pilot Peter Lawrence killed on June 11, 1953 when ejecting before the Javelin crashed after suffering a deep stall, leading to a stall warning device being fitted on later models. A second test pilot was killed On October 21, 1954: Flt Lt Robert James Ross, working on secondment from RAE Farnborough, was flying the third production Javelin, XA546, when it crashed in the Bristol Channel near Weston-super-Mare while spin testing.

There would be more aircraft losses leading to an extended flight test programme, modifications continuing throughout the development phase, the first production machine, XA544, flying on July 22, 1954 at Hucclecote on the outskirts of Gloucester, with significant development changes, most particularly in the wing design which continued to be altered up to the first production run.

Despite the first prototype being delivered in 1951, it would take Gloster a further five years and six production models to produce a first variant that was able to meet the original Air Ministry specifications, and by the time it entered service it was almost a decade after the need for an aircraft with its capabilities had been identified. 

The FAW 7 (Fighter All Weather) had fuel and armaments housed in the delta wing – a design made more famous by the Vulcan – and two Armstrong Siddeley Sapphire Sa 6 engines located either side of the fuselage, the space between utilised for the aircraft’s avionic and hydraulic systems. The initial British AI.17 radar located in the nose was upgraded to Westinghouse radar, its armaments also progressing from 4x30mm Aden cannons to two cannons and four Firestreak air-to-air missiles in later models. 

It was early in 1956 that the Javelin first entered RAF service, No. 46 Squadron at RAF Odiham taking delivery of the new Gloster jet that replaced their old Gloster jet, the Meteor. The introduction of the aircraft to a number of squadrons was aided by the establishment of a partial Operational Conversion Unit, OCU, to assist units during trials that saw the Javelin prove itself capable of intercepting bombers such as the Canberra as well as a number of modern fighter jets.

No. 141 followed No. 46 as a Javelin squadron, replacing their de Havilland Venoms, the new jet’s introduction markedly improving and expanding the RAF’s night-fighter capabilities. By July 1959, all remaining Meteor units were converted to the Javelin, and at its peak between 1959 and 1962, it served 14 RAF squadrons, a total of 302 built by Gloster and a further 133 by Armstrong-Whitworth.

11 Squadron Gloster Javelin in 1965

(11 Squadron Gloster Javelin in 1965)

However, the attraction of the Javelin to the wider world was limited, and any ideas Gloster had of sales overseas just didn’t materialise. However, production continued for the RAF, but plans to widen the scope of the Javelin for roles including reconnaissance, fighter bomber, and even a supersonic version capable of reaching Mach 1.6, did not get beyond the research phase.

The attributes of the Javelin did find a role away from UK shores, notably during the Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation that lasted from 1963 to 1966, a conflict originating from Indonesia’s opposition to the creation of the state of Malaysia. The jets of Nos. 60 and 64 Squadrons deployed to RAF Tengah in Singapore, flying combat patrols over the dense Malaysian jungles.

Six Gloster Javelin FAW.7 of No. 64 Squadron, 1959

(Six Gloster Javelin FAW.7 of No. 64 Squadron, 1959)

On September 3, 1964, an Indonesia Air Force Hercules crashed into the Straits of Malacca while attempting to evade an interception by a Javelin FAW.9 of No. 60 Squadron, the crew and 48 troops on board the Hercules all killed. During the 1960s, the Javelin squadrons were deployed across the globe at sites including RAF Kai Tak in Hong Kong (60 Squadron) and Ndola in Zambia (29 Squadron), their requirement for intercept duty at home now passed to the Lightnings.

By the late 1960s, Britain’s defensive forces were no longer required or wanted in certain pockets of the globe, the RAF and the MoD finding themselves with a surplus of aircraft, the Javelin deemed surplus to requirements.

It was retired from service in 1968 with the disbandment of No. 60 Squadron in Singapore, its shelf-life of 12 years short in comparison with other aircraft; the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A&AEE) did retain one Javelin for flying until 1975.

The Javelin was the last jet to bear the Gloster name, a company founded in Cheltenham in 1917 who rebranded their business from the Gloucestershire Aircraft Company Limited in 1926, reportedly to make it easier for customers outside the UK to pronounce and spell. Gloster was synonymous with state-of-the-art designs that equipped the RFC and the RAF from the latter part of WWI up to the 1960s, the name disappearing from the aircraft side of the business when the company, which already merged with Armstrong Whitworth, became part of Hawker Siddeley Aviation in 1963, who rebranded its product line under its own name.

Today, examples of the Javelin are available to view at venues in the UK and overseas including the RAF Museum at Cosford, a notable design from a company that brought Britain into the jet age 80 years ago.

Other Articles You May Also Enjoy

RAF in Berkshire
RAF in Berkshire
For a location bordering the western outskirts of England’s capital city, it is perhaps surprising that Berkshire boaste
Read More
101 Squadron
101 Squadron
No. 101 Squadron pays tribute to one of its most famous sons
Read More
Tempest Project Gathers Pace
Tempest Project Gathers Pace
Tempest project gathers pace as Defence Chiefs sign official treaty
Read More
RAF in Oxfordshire Part Two
RAF in Oxfordshire Part Two
RAF in Oxfordshire part two K-W
Read More
RAF in Oxfordshire Part One
RAF in Oxfordshire Part One
A hotbed of aircraft activity from pre-WWI to the present day, Oxfordshire remains a key location for RAF operations
Read More
83 Squadron
83 Squadron
Missing crew members from No. 83 Squadron finally found as Lancaster bomber is recovered
Read More
RAF in Hertfordshire
RAF in Hertfordshire
For a county that skirts the northern sector of England’s capital city, Hertfordshire could be described as being a litt
Read More
RAF Leeming
RAF Leeming
Leeming still key to the nation’s air defences more than 80 years after its first squadrons arrived
Read More

Leave a comment