On display in the Australian War Memorial is one of the most war weary of aircraft, Gloster Meteor Mk 8 jet fighter, Ex RAAF serial number A77-368. This aircraft flew with the RAAF in Korea performing no less than 485 operational missions and flying time in theatre of 484 hours. Very few aircraft in the RAAF can claim that level of utilization in any conflict.
Currently, due to space issues within the AWM the aircrafts nose is the only component on display with the remainder of the aircraft in storage at the Australian War Memorial Treloar Technology Centre.
A77-368 was constructed by Glosters (The Gloucestershire Aircraft Company Limited) of Cheltenham UK as an F.8 Fighter and allotted an RAF serial WA952, however it never served with the RAF and was instead sent to Korea as part of an allocation of Meteor’s to the RAAF to replace the 77 Sqn North American P51 aircraft which were by then outdated. Even the Meteor as a WWII era aircraft was not a competitive fighter any longer and as such it was relegated to ground attack duties after a period of difficult engagements in the fighter role, as with the P51 before it. The Meteor was nonetheless an excellent ground attack aircraft and the 77 Sqn aircraft performed extremely well with an enviable record of 15,000 missions in Meteors, five MiG-15s and destroying 3,700 buildings, 1,408 vehicles, ninety-eight railway engines and carriages, and sixteen bridges. The cost was very severe however with 40 Meteors lost and 25 RAAF pilots killed.
A77-368 was the 14th Meteor allocated to the RAAF in Korea and was delivered on 21 February 1951. Received by No. 91 Wing, RAAF it was transported to Korea from the UK aboard British Aircraft Carrier HMS Warrior. The aircraft then served with 77 Sqn RAAF and took part in 6 separate combats with MiG-15 fighters and succeeded in damaging one while piloted by Sergeant M E Colebrook DFM USAM. The Meteor was flown operationally by a total of 104 different pilots.
The aircraft returned to Australia in October 1954 and came on strength with 75 Sqn RAAF, Williamtown, New South Wales (NSW) with whom it remained until 1958 when it moved to 22Sqn at Richmond NSW and again in 1960 it was retired and relocated to Base Squadron, Fairbairn, Australian Capital Territory (ACT). The AWM acquired the Meteor in Sept 1960 and placed it in storage at RMC Duntroon until 1981 when it was sent to RAAF Base Wagga for a full restoration over a two year period and returned to Canberra on 30 August 1983. Since then the Meteor has spent time on display at the AWM and the Treloar Technology Centre as a complete airframe and in its current dismantled state.
The aircraft has the name ‘Rosemary’ painted in red on the forward left fuselage near the cockpit. It is believed to be a reference to the fiancé of Sergeant Bob Strawbridge DFM, who flew A77-368 in Korea before killed in a mid-air collision off the coast of Williamtown, NSW, in 1953.
Few Australian military aircraft can claim to have the depth of operational service time and mission history as this aircraft and have been flown by so many Australians in war. It may not have been a glamorous aircraft of the day but it was a true workhorse and is thus one of the most significant military aircraft on display anywhere in Australia. Hopefully in the future space can be found to reunite the airframe and nose sections and place the aircraft of full display once again.
© John Parker 2017