The Gloster E.1/44 was a British single-engined jet fighter design of the Second World War, developed and produced by the British aviation firm Gloster Aircraft Company. It was amongst the first jet-propelled aircraft to be developed and was produced on an experimental basis.
Following favourable testing of Britain’s first jet propelled aircraft, the turbojet-powered Gloster E.28/39 in 1941, there was considerable interest in the application of the new propulsion technology to fighter aircraft. During 1942, work commenced upon a development of a larger twin-engined fighter aircraft, which became the Gloster Meteor, the first Allied jet fighter. British industrial manufacturer Rover, who had already been contracted to produce the Power Jets W.2 jet engine, had considerable difficulty in achieving sufficient engine production during the war. Concerned by the wider production consequences of this shortage, the Air Ministry recognised the potential value of adopting a single-engined aircraft over the twin-engine configuration of the Meteor, leading to the issuing of Specification E.5/42, calling for the design and manufacture of such a fighter.
Gloster was amongst those companies to receive the specification and produced a single-engine fighter design with a low-wing monoplane configuration, which was to be equipped with a highly tapered wing and a T-tail, as well as being alternatively powered by either a single Halford H.1 or Rolls-Royce Nene engine, fed by air intakes in the wing roots. During late 1943, work on a pair of prototypes, as the GA.1, commenced. Engine manufacturing problems were mostly rectified following the reassignment of production activity to Rolls-Royce Limited. Gloster decided to refine the GA.1 independently, until the Air Ministry issued Specification E.1/44 during 1944, which sought an experimental jet-powered aircraft powered by the Rolls-Royce Nene, leading to the revised GA.2. Progress on the new fighter was slow, Gloster having concentrated on the development and production of the Meteor. On 9 March 1948, the second E.1/44 performed its maiden flight at RAF Boscombe Down. Testing revealed unpromising performance and characteristics and Gloster recognised the Meteor as having more development potential and the aircraft never entered production.
The development of the turbojet-powered E.1/44 was the product of a collaboration between the Gloster Aircraft Company and Sir Frank Whittle‘s firm, Power Jets Ltd. Whittle had formed Power Jets in March 1936 to develop his ideas of jet propulsion, with Whittle as the company’s chief engineer. For several years, attracting financial backers and aviation firms prepared to take on Whittle’s radical ideas was difficult; in 1931, Armstrong-Siddeley had evaluated and rejected Whittle’s proposal, finding it to be technically sound but at the limits of engineering capability. Securing funding was a persistently worrying issue throughout the early development of the engine. The first Whittle prototype jet engine, the Power Jets WU, began running trials in early 1937; shortly afterwards, Sir Henry Tizard, chairman of the Aeronautical Research Committee and the Air Ministry gave the project their support.
On 28 April 1939, Whittle made a visit to the premises of the Gloster Aircraft Company, where he met several key figures, such as George Carter, Gloster’s chief designer. Carter took a keen interest in Whittle’s project, particularly when he saw the operational Power Jets W.1 engine; Carter quickly made several rough proposals of various aircraft designs powered by the engine. Independently, Whittle had also been producing proposals for a high-altitude jet-powered bomber; following the start of the Second World War and the Battle for France, a greater national emphasis on fighter aircraft arose. Power Jets and Gloster quickly formed a mutual understanding around mid-1939.
In September 1939, the Air Ministry issued a specification to Gloster for an aircraft to test one of Whittle’s turbojet designs in flight, resulting in the development of the Gloster E.28/39, the first British jet aircraft. The name adopted for this initial proof of concept aircraft, E.28/39, originated from the aircraft having been developed in conformance with the 28th “Experimental” specification issued by the Air Ministry in 1939. While the specification had included provisions for armaments, these were not initially included and the aircraft was principally intended to demonstrate the viability, qualities, and potential value of jet propulsion in broad terms, not to immediately produce a combat aircraft. On 15 May 1941, Gloster’s Chief Test Pilot, Flight LieutenantGerry Sayer flew the aircraft under jet power for the first time from RAF Cranwell, near Sleaford in Lincolnshire, in a flight lasting 17 minutes.