Friday, September 07, 2007

James 'Jim' Reginald Cooksey 1912-2001

Jim Cooksey joined the RAF in 1928 as a 15-year-old aircraft apprentice. In 1936, he trained as a pilot, serving in seven different fighter squadrons, ending up in command of No 74 Gloster Meteor Squadron at RAF Colerne, near Bath, from 1945 until 1947.Cooksey had first applied to Gloster in 1947 after leaving the RAF, only to be told that the company had all the pilots it needed. On his way home from the interview, however, he heard on the wireless that a Gloster pilot had been killed during a test flight. He promptly sent a telegram offering his services again.Taken on as a production test pilot, Cooksey was given the task of testing the new single-seat Gloster Meteor VIII jet fighter. After arriving at Gloster, he helped to reduce the number of test flights it took to get the new Meteor deemed "off test" from an average of 17 flights to an average of two-and-half, saving the firm considerable time and money.He flew 4,900 hours in all, 2,200 of them in Meteors, including demonstrations at the Farnborough air shows in 1952, 1953 and 1954.

In 1950, in a bid to rise above the competition from other jets on the market, Gloster decided to try for the 1,000 kilometre closed circuit speed record of 464 mph, which had been set four years previously by Lieutenant Henry A Johnson of the United States Air Force, in a Lockheed P 80 ("Shooting Star") jet fighter.

Calculations showed that, in order to break the record, the fuel margin would need to be very low, and so Cooksey repeatedly practised reaching his home base of Moreton Valence airfield, near Gloucester, and landing his Meteor with empty tanks.

After waiting for several weeks for good visibility, Cooksey took off on his record-breaking attempt in brilliant sunshine at 5 pm on May 12 1950. He flashed across the starting line on the airfield at a height of 150 ft, before climbing and then throttling back to cruising power at 30,000 ft. As he headed towards his turning point at Fife Ness, near St Andrews, he had the benefits of clear visibility and a 20-knot south-easterly wind. He checked his straight course from selected landmarks at Widnes, Lancaster, Carlisle and the Firth of Forth. As he crossed the southern shore of the Firth of Forth, he started to descend in order to round the turning point at not more than 300 ft, so that the observers representing the International Aeronautical Federation could identify his aircraft. The point was near a golf course adjoining a wood at Cambo head, where white strips had been laid out and smoke candles were fired as the Meteor approached.

Cooksey then rose and turned for home, and did not begin to come down again until the Bristol Channel was in sight. He finally landed having covered the distance in 1 hour, 12 minutes and 58.2 seconds, with a recorded speed of 510.9 mph. Having started with 750 gallons of fuel, he had just 17 gallons left when he got home.On landing, Cooksey seemed a little disappointed: "It was not as fast as I hoped for," he said. "I was hoping to do the trip in one hour 10 minutes." His record nevertheless stood for six years, and the achievement was all the more meritorious since the aircraft was a completely standard Meteor VIII picked at random from the production line.

After the production of Meteors ceased in 1957, Cooksey spent five years inventing milk vending machines for Gloster Vending, a subsidiary of Gloster Aircraft Company, and then became a self-employed designer of vending and coin change machines. From 1968 until 1972, he worked for the British Aircraft Company as a facilities engineer at RAF Fairford, Gloucestershire, during the Concorde test programme.