WD804, the First Gloster Javelin
Evolved in response to Specification F44/46 which was issued on 24 January1947, and which later matured as the F4/48, the Gloster Javelin was designed as a twin-engine twin-seat night fighter capable of intercepting enemy aircraft at altitudes up to at least 40,000 feet, with radar and armament.
The de Havilland D.H.110 was also evolved in response to Specification F4/48. Prototypes were ordered from each design by the Ministry of Supply.
Construction of the first GA.5 prototype, as the Javelin was initially known, began in 1949. It was serialled WD804 and was equipped with Armstrong-Siddeley Sapphire A.S.Sa.3 engines, rated each at 7,200 lb thrust. The manufacture of WD804’s components took place in Hucclecote and these were taken to Bentham where they were built-up into major sub-assemblies. They were then assembled into a complete airframe before being taken in sections to Gloster’s Moreton Valence flight test airfield in July 1951, using Queen Mary vehicles, for final installation of equipment and preparation for flight. In Moreton Valence, the final system tests took place. A variable-incidence tailplane was completed and installed in September 1951.
Taxiing trials were begun in the middle of October 1951 and continued through November, involving some thirty high-speed runs.
On 26 November 1954, with Gloster’s chief test pilot Squadron Leader W.A. ‘Bill’ Waterton at the controls, WD804 took to the air for the first time, late on a clear, cold afternoon, accompanied by a Gloster Meteor chase aircraft.
Immediately after taking off, Sqn Ldr Waterton reported severe buffeting in the airflow around the tail, becoming more pronounced at higher speed. The chase pilot confirmed that the rudder was buffeting, so Waterton completed some basic flight tests at reduced speed and brought the aircraft back to land after a 34 minutes flight.
Subsequent flights with wool tufts fitted showed vertical airflows over parts of the fin. The trouble was reduced by lengthening the rear fuselage and the jet pipes, but was not finally cured until the fitment of the “pen-nib” fairing at the top of the rear fuselage. This modification was embodied on all Sapphire Sa.6-powered production aircraft.
With this problem overcome, the development flying of WD804 proceeded smoothly and the aircraft was flown by pilots of A&AEE Boscombe Down.
On 29 June 1952 Sqdn. Ldr. W. A. Waterton started on Flight 99 for further development work for Gloster. About 18 minutes after taking off from Moreton Valence airfield and whilst carrying out a level speed run at 3000 ft between 530 kt and 535 kt, moderate tail buffeting was experienced. The vibrographs and auto-observer were switched on. A very powerful high frequency vibration then occurred and caused the stick to move about 2 – 3 inches fore and aft. The vibration was sufficiently powerful to shake the nose of the aircraft. The pilot throttled the engines right back and when this was being done a loud crack was heard, the stick became dead and the fore and aft vibration disappeared. Both elevators had broken off. There was no appreciable change in WD804’s trim. Waterton then found that fore and aft movement of the control column had no effect on the aircraft but that a reasonable measure of control was possible by use of the throttles and tail actuating gear, due to the generous tailplane area. He decided to attempt a landing on the 10,000 ft long runway of Boscombe Down, in Wiltshire. He found that fore and aft control deteriorated at lower speeds so he decided to fly the aircraft onto the runway with the undercarriage extended in an endeavour to land it without damage and with the object of’ preserving the observer records. The canopy was left closed in case opening it might cause further deteriorating in longitudinal control.
A normal approach with quarter flap was made and the aircraft was flown onto the runway at about 140 kt. After the first touchdown it ballooned and the subsequent bouncing could not be controlled by the tail trimmer. The amplitude of the bouncing increased with each cycle until the undercarriage was driven up through the top surface of the mainplane. The port wingtip struck the ground and the outer half of the wing was torn off. Fire broke out at this point due to the disruption of the fuel system. The ignition originated from sparks from metal grazing the runway. The aircraft then swung off the runway and came to rest on its belly. It caught fire. Waterton had some difficulty in getting the canopy open but eventually this was accomplished and he escaped with only superficial injuries, and brought out the vital auto-observer recordings to safety. The aircraft was written off. It had accumulated 63 hr and 45 min in the air, and had been scheduled to take part in the annual Fighter Command Tactical Conference at West Raynham together with its rival, the DH.110.
Eight days after the accident, the Javelin was ordered into production with a super priority classification. Waterton was awarded the George Medal for his courage.
Henry Matthews (copyright)