Aviation History

Meet the Gloster Meteor F8 “Prone Pilot:” The Fighter Jet used to evaluate the advantages of coping with the effects of Gravity while flying Lying Down

Meteor F8 WK935 was selected for modification and joined the Institute of Aviation Medicine in the autumn of 1954.

A much modified Meteor F8 fighter, the ‘prone position’ Meteor shown in the photos of this post, was used to evaluate the advantages of coping with the effects of gravity while flying lying down. In practice the difficulties of operating the controls of the aircraft outweighed the advantages.

In the early 1950s the adoption of a prone position cockpit in future combat aircraft designs appeared attractive for two reasons. Firstly, such a configuration enabled the frontal area of the airframe to be reduced and therefore reduced drag. Secondly, aircrew can withstand greater ‘g’ forces if not sitting upright a vital consideration given the need for jet combat aircraft to manoeuvre at ever increasing speeds.

The Bristol Aeroplane Company sought to exploit these advantages by incorporating a prone pilot position in its proposal for a rocket powered fighter the Bristol Type 178. In order to establish the viability of a prone pilot cockpit, the RAF Institute of Aviation Medicine required a jet aircraft that could be flown by a pilot lying on his stomach. Meteor F8 WK935 was selected for modification and joined the Institute of Aviation Medicine in the autumn of 1954.

Following some fifty-five hours of flight testing it was concluded that the prone position concept was feasible, but only if absolutely necessary for aerodynamic reasons. The aircraft was never flown solo from the front cockpit. The development of special aviation clothing offered a simpler solution to the problem of counteracting ‘g’ forces and the prone position was abandoned.

‘Its mission was to see if there were any benefits to the prone pilot position. It proved, conclusively, the opposite,’ David Powell, an aviation expert, explains on Quora.

‘Aside from being more difficult to fly due to the unconventional layout, the prone pilot also had limited rear vision – which in mock combat scenarios proved to be a major drawback. Also it was unclear how the pilot could eject from such a position. The final nail in the coffin was the fact that pressurised g-suits were becoming better and better and they were a far simpler and effective solution.

‘My Grandfather Robin Peter Reginald Powell was a test pilot at the end of WWII and flew early Meteor prototypes, though not the prone version which was a one-off modification to the last production Meteor airframe.’

The Gloster Meteor F8 Prone Pilot still survives, and is preserved at the Royal Air Force Museum Cosford, UK.

Photo credit: Crown Copyright and Alan Wilson from Peterborough, Cambs, UK via Wikipedia

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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