Link to Home page  

OM, KBE, FRS, Hon FRAeS. (June 1 1907 - August 9 1996).

Frank Whittle is the Father of British jet propulsion. Whittle was born in Coventry in 1907 and attended Leamington College before joining the RAF as a mechanic in 1923.

In 1926, Whittle managed to get a place at the Officer Training College at Cranwell where he learnt to fly. For his Thesis at Cranwell, Whittle espoused the theory that some other means of propulsion other than propellers alone would be required to achieve speeds in excess of 500 mph at altitude and conjectured that the already much mooted idea of using compressed exhaust gasses to provide additional thrust was not only possible but would improve at higher altitudes.

After leaving Cranwell in 1928, Whittle served as a pilot with 111 Squadron based at RAF Hornchurch. It is probable that Whittle worked on his early ideas for a Jet Engine whilst serving at Hornchurch for he patented a simple jet engine design in 1930.

Unfortunately the Air Ministry showed little interest in the idea and in so doing allowed it to remain in the public domain and not an official secret. Whittle’s patent expired in 1935 whilst Whittle was studying at Cambridge but he continued to work on his idea with Power Jets Ltd.

In 1937 Power Jets Ltd finally won funding from a still apathetic Air Ministry in the nick of time to continue development of the design. Meanwhile similar work was also being undertaken by Hans von Ohain in Germany but with far more support from the state.

Power Jets was, however almost completely finished due to the Air Ministry’s continued lack of interest when war broke out in 1939. With the outbreak of war, however, the Air Ministry finally took an interest in Whittle’s brainchild poured resources into it.

Two years later on may 15th 1941 the first British Jet aircraft took to the skies and despite being an experimental model soon exceeded the Spitfire’s top speed at high altitude. Further delays in finding a suitable engine manufacturer before Rolls Royce were commissioned to make the engine meant that a German jet, the Messcherscmitt 262 beat the British Gloster Meteor into front line service by a full nine months.

After the war, Whittle retired from the RAF and Power Jets Ltd and soon after joined BOAC advising on gas turbine technology.

Bishop, E. 2002. The Daily Telegraph Book of Airmen's Obituaries.



Fun stuff Gallery Maps Local Memories Aircraft and Airmen History home