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IAF Aircraft Inventory: Gloster Meteor

First flown on March 5, 1943, the Meteor became the RAF's first operational jet when it entered service with the No. 616 Squadron on July 12, 1944. It was the only Allied jet fighter to enter service before the end of WWII, making its operational debut against V-1 flying bombs launched against southern England. Numerous variants were developed after the war to provide fighters, trainers and photo reconnaissance aircraft, the F-8 variant serving as the RAF's major single seat day fighter during the early 1950s.

The Middle East entered the jet age in October 1949 when the Egyptian Air Force (EAF) received its first jet fighters, Meteor F.4s. By the end of 1952, the EAF had 49 jets (23 Meteors and 26 de Havilland Vampires) in its inventory, with more expected shortly, at a time when the most advanced fighter operated by the IAF was the North American P-51D Mustang, a World War II veteran. Israel had made several attempts to purchase jets from the USA and other European nations beginning in 1950, but these were rejected every time. In August 1952 the British government declared its willingness to sell 14 Meteors to each Middle Eastern nation, seeking to increase its weapons sales while keeping an impartial position. The IAF had long before come to the conclusion that there was no competing with the Arabs on quantity and that Israel had therefore to rely on quality, a stance contrary to the current offer. No nation besides Britain however, would sell jet fighters to Israel and Israel could not stand by while the balance of power was shifting against its favor. On November 23, 1952, the Israeli government approved the purchase and on February 1, 1953, the IAF and Gloster signed a deal for 11 Meteor F.8s and 4 training T.7s. These were the first aircraft the IAF had ever purchased from the manufacturer instead of second-hand examples.

On June 7, 1953, the 117th "Hasilon Harishona" (First Jet) squadron was formed at Ramat-David AFB, headed by Major Menahem Bar. On June 17th the first two Meteor T.7s arrived at Ramat-David, flown by British pilots. They were received in a large ceremony attended by David Ben-Gurion, Israel's premier, who awarded the two aircraft the nicknames "Sufa" (Storm) and "Sa'ar" (Tempest). The delivery of the F.8s begun on August 21st 1953 and was completed on January 17, 1954. The same year saw the IAF begin negotiations for the procurement of 2 T.7s and 9 Meteor FR.9, an armed tactical reconnaissance variant similar to the F.8. The first pair of FR.9s arrived in January 1955 and by May all 9 aircraft were in Israel. Two of these were later converted to F.8 standard while another 5 were stripped of their reconnaissance apparatus and were employed as mere fighters. The end of 1955 saw the conversion of two T.7s to the photo-reconnaissance role. These were employed by the 115th reconnaissance section which later became the 115th "Hadrakon Hameoffef" (Flying Dragon) squadron. These aircraft flew intelligence gathering missions all over the Middle East, photos provided by them of Iraq's H-3 airbase used in the planning of operation "Moked". The IAF also sought to improve its night fighting abilities and when Britain offered Meteor NF.13s to Syria and Egypt, Israel also applied for the aircraft. 6 aircraft were procured in 1956, the first three delivered on September 5th. These aircraft entered service with the new 119th "Atalef" squadron, formed during August, and would play an important part in the upcoming operation "Kadesh". The remaining trio were only delivered in March 1958, by which the 119th squadron was based at Tel-Nof. Another variant employed by the IAF was the F.7.5, a T.7 with the tail section of an F.8. 4 such aircraft were purchased in Belgium, the first pair arriving on December 4, 1957 and the other on January 25th 1958.

The 117th squadron's first priority was the training of pilots for the IAF's new jet fleet and in September 1953 the first four pilots begun their conversion course at Ramat David. Until 1955 the 117th was the IAF's only jet squadron, through which all future jet pilots passed. Yet with the Meteor as Israel's most advanced fighter type, the 117th was also an operational squadron, at constant standby at a time of increasing tensions in the Middle East. In July 1954 two Meteors were scrambled against Egyptian Air Force Hawker Furies near Israel's southern border but no engagement took place. On August 18th 1955 the 117th deployed eight of its Meteors from Ramat David to Hazor following Egyptian Air Force incursions into Israel. Whereas earlier Egyptian deployments had enabled IAF Meteors to be based in a northern air base, new Egyptian jets and their location in air bases in the Sinai required a rapid Israeli response to the Egyptian threat. On August 20th two Meteors engaged 4 Egyptian de Havilland Vampires over the Negev Desert, one Vampire damaged in the exchange. On the morning of September 1st 1955 four EAF Vampires were spotted crossing the Israeli-Egyptian border at Nitzana and at 06:52 two Meteors, an F.8 and an FR.9, were scrambled to intercept them. After detecting two of the intuders, Captain Aaron Yoali approached the Vampire pair from the rear and downed one from 400m away. Covered by his number two, Captain Yoash Tzidon, Yoali then proceeded to down the second Vampire as well. The first jet kills in the Middle East and the first IAF victories since the War of Independence, the two Vampires earned Aaron Yoali a citation from the IDF Chief-of-Staff.

The rise of Pan-Arabism throughout the Arab world during the mid-1950s, led by Egypt's President Nasser, was one of the decisive factors in the events leading to the outbreak of the 1956 Suez Crisis. It was also helpful in tightening the relationship between France and Israel, and by the end of 1955 new French jets were making their way to Israel. The arrival of the Dassault Ouragans and Mysteres had relegated the Meteors to the ground attack role, although the NF.13s were still the IAF's leading night fighters. When the decision was made in 1956 to launch operation "Kadesh", Israel's part in the Suez Campaign, IAF command ordered the conversion of the three NF.13s to day fighters. If necessary, the night fighters would even have been cannibalized for spares for the daytime Meteors. Yoash Tsidon, the intended commander of the 119th squadron, however, refused to abandon the NF.13's original role and preserved his aircraft's night capabilities. His defiance was justified shortly later when Israeli intelligence learned of a trip by a high-ranking Egyptian military delegation to Syria. Headed by the Egyptian minister of defense, this delegation was to return to Egypt by means of an EAF Ilyushin Il-14. At 20:00 on October 28, 1956, on the eve of the launching of operation "Kadesh", Yoash Tsidon and Elyashiv Brosh took off in Meteor NF.13 No. 52 to intercept the Ilyushin. At 10,000ft over the Mediterranean, the two pilots spotted the Il-14. After visually verifying the identification of their target, the Meteor then opened fire and downed the aircraft. Despite the success of the mission, it was later discovered that the Egyptian minister of defense was not onboard, deciding to prolong his stay in the Syrian capital. Operation "Tarnegol" (Rooster) as the mission had been called was only revealed to the public 33 years after it had been carried out.

The initial planning for operation "Kadesh" had called for the Meteors to attack Cairo-West airport, the location of Egypt's Il-28 bombers. This planning was abandoned on the eve of the war when the ground element of the operation became apparent and the IAF was ordered to assist ground forces in the Sinai. On October 27, 1956, two days before the beginning of operation "Kadesh", the "First Jet" squadron deployed to Ekron AFB. The operation's final orders were received on October 28th and the war began the following day, with the Israeli paradrop into the Mitla Pass at the heart of the Sinai. at 15:33 on the 29th the 115th squadron's Meteor T-7 pair took off on a mission to distract Egyptian attention away from the planned drop zone, while 10 further Meteors took off at 16:00, tasked with escorting the troop-laden C-47s into the Sinai. After 35 minutes of escorting the transports across the border, the Meteors were replaced by Ouragans. The 117th then proceeded to take part in the fighting, flying attack, and reconnaissance missions throughout the Sinai. October 31st saw extensive attacks against Egyptian ground forces, a number of aircraft hit by anti-aircraft fire. The 117th squadron leader, captain Aaron Yoali, managed to return his crippled aircraft to Israel despite losing his Meteor's left engine and also suffering injuries himself. Yoali returned to active duty the following day after escaping from the hospital! An Egyptian radar station was destroyed on October 31st, and on November 2nd the Meteors participated in the conquest of the Gaza Strip and the destruction of the 8th Palestinian division. When IDF intelligence warned of an Egyptian intent to conduct Il-28 strikes against targets within Israel the Meteors were once again readied for attack against Cairo-West. The Israeli strikes did not take place, but the NF.13s were put on alert to intercept the incoming bombers. Egyptian attacks took place on October 30th and 31st but the NF-13s failed to engage the bombers on the four occasions they were scrambled. Of 116 flight hours logged by Meteors during operation "Kadesh", 20 were photo reconnaissance missions, by both the 117th and 115th squadrons. Among the targets photographed were Egyptian forces in the mid-Sinai on October 31st and the Egyptian array in the southern tip of the Sinai, photographed on November 1st by a 115th squadron T.7. Meteors were also involved in a number of friendly fire cases, hitting IDF ground forces on October 31st. On November 2nd a pair Meteors on patrol attempted to stop an exchange of fire between two Israeli units by flying low passes over them (It was finally stopped by a piper cub pilot landing between the two forces).

IAF Meteor sorties during 1956 operation "Kadesh"

















Source - "Operation "Kadesh", IDF/AF 1950-1956" by Major Yitzhak Shtaigman.

The IAF decision to train all future fighter pilots on jet aircraft, made shortly after the end of operation "Kadesh", brought an end to the Meteor's front line service. The 117th was incorporated into the IAF flight school, and in July 1957 was turned into a reserve squadron. The 115th Meteor T.7s rejoined the aircraft of the 117th, although they continued to fly reconnaissance missions until the arrival of the photo-reconnaissance Vautour IIBs in the late 1950s. The last front-line Meteors were the NF-13s, 6 of which were in service by 1958. Operated by the 119th "Atalef" squadron, the NF-13 were tasked with night interception and the training of pilots in night flying. With the arrival of the Vautour IINs, they too were reassigned to the 117th squadron and were retired shortly later. A single NF.13, No. 57, was used by the IAF flight test center to develop the Gabriel missile, its nose section was completely replaced. It currently resides at the IAF Museum at Hatzerim, along with a number of other Meteors. February 11th, 1962, saw the 117th "Hasilon Harishona" squadron transferring its Meteors to the 110th squadron, in anticipation of its reactivation as a Dassault Mirage squadron. The 110th employed the type as a trainer until its retirement in 1970.

Specification: Gloster Meteor F.Mk 8
Type: single-seat fighter and fighter-bomber.
Powerplant: two Rolls-Royce Derwent 8.
Performance: max speed - 590mph at sea level, operational range - 980 miles, service ceiling - 40,000ft.
Weights: empty - 4820kg, max takeoff - 8664kg.
Dimensions: span - 11.33m, length - 13.59m, height - 4.22m.
Armament: 4 * 20mm cannons with 2 * 450kg bombs or 4 * HVAR 5" rockets under the wings.

Source: IAF Inventory

Photo: Large Meteor - Fritz Cohen, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.