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Meteoric rise: New Zealand’s first jet flight

On 11 February 1946 the first jet aircraft took to the skies in Aotearoa New Zealand. This was the first test flight of Gloster Meteor Mk. III NZ6001, an aircraft on loan from the Royal Air Force. While the Meteor barely saw any RNZAF service, this first jet flight and the publicity tour that followed showed tens of thousands of New Zealanders the shape of things to come. 

Gloster Meteor NZ6001, flown by Squadron Leader RM McKay, over the Auckland area, 14 February 1946. Image ref OhG2976-54, RNZAF Official.

Aerobatics at hobsonville

Squadron Leader Robert Maxwell McKay (later Wing Commander, OBE, AFC) took off from Hobsonville in Meteor NZ6001 at 1030 hours on 11 February 1946. The unit history records the following description of the flight:  

Wind and weather conditions were almost ideal for the flight and the aircraft took off at incredible speed in the space of approximately 600 yards. Within a few seconds the Meteor had shot high out of sight reappearing from the cloud immediately over the airfield in a steep dive.  

For 25 minutes S/L McKay put the Meteor through every conceivable manoeuvre and after low runs over the airfield finally made a perfect landing at Whenuapai. The speed of the aircraft ranged from 400 to 450 miles per hour on the test flight. It is capable of more than this but on its initial flight in New Zealand it was not considered wise to fly at the maximum speed. 

Meteor NZ6001 landing at RNZAF Station Whenuapai after being flown by Squadron Leader RM McKay from Hobsonville, where it was assembled. This is believed to be the first flight of this aircraft in New Zealand. 11 February 1946. Image ref WhG4284_46, RNZAF Official.
Meteor NZ6001 at RNZAF Station Whenuapai, after its first flight, 11 February 1946. Image ref WhG4285_46, RNZAF Official.
Meteor NZ6001 at RNZAF Station Whenuapai, after its first flight, 11 February 1946. Image ref WhG4285_46, RNZAF Official.

Jet-tripping around new zealand

After the first flight, Squadron Leader McKay and the Gloster Meteor embarked on a nationwide publicity tour from 21 March – 9 May 1946. During this time, tens of thousands of New Zealanders came out to watch the demonstrations, witnessing for the first time the speed and manoeuvrability of the jet aircraft. 

Arrival of Meteor NZ6001 at RNZAF Station Ardmore at the start of a tour of New Zealand, flown by Squadron Leader RM McKay. 15 February 1946. Image ref ArdG1156_56, RNZAF Official.
Arrival of Meteor NZ6001 at RNZAF Station Ardmore at the start of a tour of New Zealand, flown by Squadron Leader RM McKay. 15 February 1946. Image ref ArdG1156_56, RNZAF Official.
Arrival of Meteor NZ6001 at RNZAF Station Ardmore at the start of a tour of New Zealand, flown by Squadron Leader RM McKay, pictured here standing beside his aircraft. 15 February 1946. Image ref ArdG1155_46, RNZAF Official.
Arrival of Meteor NZ6001 at RNZAF Station Ardmore at the start of a tour of New Zealand, flown by Squadron Leader RM McKay, pictured here standing beside his aircraft. 15 February 1946. Image ref ArdG1155_46, RNZAF Official.

The Meteor performed to crowds of up to 12,000 at Ohakea on 7 April 1946, having arrived from Gisborne the day before. According to the unit history, 'Only the Meteor was used but low cloud hampered the display and S/L McKay was restricted in his choice and variety of aerobatics used.’ 

Squadron Leader RM McKay, being greeted by fellow servicemen at RNZAF Station Ohakea during his tour of New Zealand with Gloster Meteor NZ6001, 7 April 1946. Image ref OhG386_46, RNZAF Official.
Squadron Leader RM McKay, being greeted by fellow servicemen at RNZAF Station Ohakea during his tour of New Zealand with Gloster Meteor NZ6001, 7 April 1946. Image ref OhG386_46, RNZAF Official.
Meteor NZ6001 flying past members of the public during a display at RNZAF Station Ohakea during the tour of New Zealand by the aircraft, 7 April 1946. Image ref OhG384_46, RNZAF Official.
Meteor NZ6001 flying past members of the public during a display at RNZAF Station Ohakea during the tour of New Zealand by the aircraft, 7 April 1946. Image ref OhG384_46, RNZAF Official.
Meteor NZ6001 on static public display at RNZAF Station Ohakea during the tour of New Zealand by the aircraft, 7 April 1946. Image ref OhG390_46, RNZAF Official.
Meteor NZ6001 on static public display at RNZAF Station Ohakea during the tour of New Zealand by the aircraft, 7 April 1946. Image ref OhG390_46, RNZAF Official.
Cockpit of Meteor NZ6001 at RNZAF Station Ohakea, July 1946. Imag ref OhG407_46, RNZAF Official.
Cockpit of Meteor NZ6001 at RNZAF Station Ohakea, July 1946. Image ref OhG408_46, RNZAF Official.

Cockpit of Meteor NZ6001 at RNZAF Station Ohakea, July 1946. Image ref OhG407_46, OhG408_46, RNZAF Official.

Meteoric rise - and fall

The Jet Propulsion Unit was formed at Ohakea in order to train some 56 pilots to fly the Meteor. But the need to restrain from using the Meteor’s full capabilities due to safety concerns plagued its RNZAF service. 

Weaknesses had begun to develop in earlier marks of this aircraft, and high-speed flight restrictions were placed on its operations. By mid-1947 NZ6001 was put in storage and purchased by the RNZAF in 1950 to use as an instructional airframe (INST147). NZ6001 was sold as scrap in May 1957. 

Meteor INST147 (previously NZ6001) inside a Technical Training School hangar at RNZAF Station Hobsonville, 1957. Image ref WhG11852_57, RNZAF Official.
Meteor INST147 (previously NZ6001) inside a Technical Training School hangar at RNZAF Station Hobsonville, 1957. Image ref WhG11852_57, RNZAF Official.

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