HASSLING THE METEOR

by "Tex" Henry

I graduated with 53-B at Foster AFB, TX, and was excited to be on my way to the fighting in Korea. Then the war ended. Our orders (there were five of us) were changed and we headed for Europe. RAF Manston to be exact, by way of the all-weather school at Moody AFB, GA. The diversion to Moody made a lot of sense later after being exposed to the English weather.

The RAF base at Manston had been built during World War Two as a primary recovery station for shot up aircraft returning from missions against Nazi Germany. It was the most eastern base in England, and right on the Channel just north of Dover. Manston had a 750 foot wide runway, plenty wide enough to accomodate a four ship takeoff and landing in the Sabre, which we performed on a fairly regular basis. The main runway had a diagonal grass strip that many of the RAF aircraft, like the Meteor, Vampire, and Venom, used. Their aircraft weren't as sophisticated as ours and could use the grass strip with ease.

When we arrived at Manston, we were assigned to the 406th Fighter Bomber Wing, in one of its three squadrons - the 512th, 513th, and 514th. The 406th was still equipped with Republic F-84E Thunderjets, but were about to receive new F-86F Sabres. I was assigned to the 512th Squadron, checking out in the '84 and flying it for about 25 to 30 hours before transitioning into the Sabre. At the time, I was one of fourteen second lieutenants assigned to the squadron.

Once we got into the Sabre, we spent much of our airborne time hassling with the RAF. Their first line fighter was the Gloster Meteor Mk. IV. They hadn't received any of the Canadair Sabre 4s yet. The Meteor was the jet replacement for the Spitfire, and had about the same turning capability - very tight. The British believed in aircraft that turn. And more than one RAF pilot claimed that the Meteor could be cart-wheeled! Some of that was in bar talk, but some was in ernest. I was told you could roll the thing into a 90° bank, throttle the low side engine back to idle, go full bore on the high side engine, and with full low side rudder - BAM! End over end! However, I never saw one do it.

One day eight of our Sabres had engaged a similar number of Meteors a bit north of London. In the melee that ensued, I ended up behind a Meteor in an excellent bounce position. I pulled in behind him and started taking gun camera film of him when suddenly, his right engine blew up, with turbine wheel and pieces flying off. I followed him down to see if he would make it into an emergency field. But anyone who has ever flown in England knows that you are seldom out of gliding distance of some kind of airstrip.

The Meteor pilot made a safe landing and our flight rejoined to return to Manston. Suddenly, there was another Meteor flying with us. And not just with us, he was flying on my wing. Later on, I found out that he was checking to see if my gun ports were blackened. They thought I was using live ammo and had shot down the Meteor! Upon my return to Manston, I was met by the DO of the 406th. He asked if I had taken pictures of 'the event'. I replied to the affirmative, whereby he took my film to show it to the RAF and prevent a flap with them. I never heard any more about it, so I guess we avoided a second Battle of Britain.

In early 1954, the 513th and 514th Squadrons converted to F-86D all-weather interceptors. We in the 512th kept our '86Fs and in late 1954 moved to Soesterberg AB, Holland (the envy of all the USAFE troops). In September 1955, the 512th Squadron was re-designated the 32nd Fighter Day Squadron and assigned to the 36th Fighter Day Wing at Bitburg, Germany. The Royal Dutch Air Force was equipped with British Meteors, so we continued our 'aerial combat' with them - with an occasional joust with the RCAF guys and their new Sabre Mk. 6s based in France. Now that was a real 'hassle'. I departed Soesterberg in early 1957 and was reassigned to Nellis.


No portion of this article may be used or reprinted without permission from the President of the F-86 Sabre Pilots Association or the editor of Sabre Jet Classics magazine.


Return to Classics Page