Meteor WD686 returns to Croome

Tuesday, 28 August 2018, a section of the partly restored Meteor WD686 returns to Croome.

METEOR WD686 – The last plane to fly out of Defford Airfield

In the Second World War, Defford Airfield was built in the grounds of Croome Park and the Croome estate. Croome was the ancestral seat of the Earls of Coventry. The Park was landscaped by the legendary ‘Capability’ Brown.

Defford Airfield was one of the most secret places in the country, during the Second World War and the Cold War years which followed. For it was at Defford that war-winning airborne radar was developed, tested and proven.

But by the mid-1950s the main runway was no longer long enough or strong enough to take the new V-bombers then coming into service. Airborne radar and other vital research moved to Pershore airfield and Defford airfield finally closed for flying in April 1958.

Visitors viewing the Meteor cockpit
visitors viewing the Meteor cockpit
Visitors viewing the Meteor cockpit

The Gloster Meteor was the RAF’s first jet aircraft, entering service in 1944 although our plane was built in 1952 at Coventry. It was fitted with a Mark 17 radar at Coventry, before delivery to the Telecommunications Research Establishment at Defford for radar trials and also spending time at the Central Fighter Establishment at West Raynham, the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment at Boscombe Down, and finally returning to Defford in 1957 where it was used as a target aircraft during radar trials for the ‘Red Dean’ air-to-air missile.

The last ‘plane to fly out of Defford before the airfield finally, officially, closed for flying was a Meteor NF11 night fighter, WD686, the last of a large and varied fleet of aircraft which had served at Defford.

By the 1970s Meteor WD686 was abandoned on the fire dump at RAE Bedford until 1973 when it was acquired by the Imperial War Museum at Duxford in poor condition and missing many parts. The aircraft was restored for static display by a team of volunteers and was exhibited in its original green and grey camouflage colour scheme, as it would have appeared at Defford.

Meteor WD686 in 1990
 Meteor WD686 in 1990
Meteor WD686 in 1990

In 1991 WD686 was placed on loan to a privately owned museum in Norfolk where it was displayed outdoors for several years, close to the coast, the aircraft’s condition deteriorated until its future became at serious risk. Recognising WD686’s significance as a part of Defford Airfield’s history, the Defford Airfield Heritage Group, a group of volunteers working in partnership with the National Trust, determined to rescue and restore the Meteor, and raised the funds to do so.

Now a section of the Meteor WD686 is returning to the Defford Airfield site, on land now owned by the National Trust. Incredibly Meteor WD686 has survived, although it was uncared for and at risk, deteriorating from exposure to the elements.

Meteor WD686 under restoration
 Meteor WD686 restoration
Meteor WD686 under restoration

The Boscombe Down Aviation Collection with workshops and a wealth of experience in restoration of aircraft to ground display standards, were entrusted with the highly skilled task of restoration and preservation of Meteor WD686. So far, they have meticulously restored the forward fuselage with nose, cockpit and canopy.

Meteor cockpit arrives at Croome
Meteor cockpit arrives at Croome
Meteor cockpit arrives at Croome

It is this section of the ‘Last Plane to Fly Out of Defford’ which will be returning for display at the RAF Defford Museum at National Trust Croome, arriving on Tuesday 28 August.

The iconic aircraft will stay for around two months before returning to the workshop. It is hoped the whole aircraft will be restored and return to Croome for display at some point next year.

Meteor identified as WD686
black and white image of Meteor WD686
Meteor identified as WD686