Frank Whittle, Inventor of the Jet Engine, was a Man Before his Time

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With the popularity of today’s private travel, Frank Whittle, inventor of the jet engine, deserves to be remembered

Frank Whittle was an English inventor and British Royal Air Force officer, while his invention was created 90 years ago, his appreciation will live on in the modern jet plane developments we make today. In today’s times, jet engines and aircraft are constantly changing and evolving. With the boost of popularity among the wealthy and their social media mentions it is no wonder that private jet travel has become a sought-after luxury for the ages.

But during Mr. Whittle’s time, the only thing on anyone’s mind in using jet plane aircraft was simply how and when they could be used in war efforts across the globe during WWII. Jet propulsion had been theorized in many different ways prior to the submission of the invention to the patent office in 1928. But no one had successfully put those theories together to create a working prototype that would produce forward movement from the backward ejection of a high-speed jet of gas or liquid. Which is, in essence, what jet propulsion is. That is until a 22-year-old genius officer wrote a thesis on gas turbine engines and their use in aircraft.

The Genius: Early Beginnings

Frank Whittle, was raised as a typical child in the early 1900s in Coventry. The eldest son of Moses and Sara, he developed an early love and fascination with flight and engineering after spending time learning at his father’s company how to create and work on valves, piston rings, and a single-cylinder gas engine.

Over time, the young boy made plans to join the Royal Air Force and in 1923, after being failed for his physical capabilities prior, Frank was admitted into the RAF. There, he taught the theory of aircraft engine and eventually earned himself a place in the officer training course at Cranwell.

Frank balanced his flight time with the writing of a comprehensive thesis on aircraft design. This thesis would later become the starting point for his patent and explained that you did not need a piston engine or propeller on an aircraft. It argued that you could use a gas turbine which would blast air out of a high-powered exhaust pipe at the back of the aircraft and proposed that this invention would be faster than anything else in existence.

The Spark: A brilliant idea

The thesis, once written was taken by Whittle, himself, to the Air Ministry in 1929. It was passed along to A.A. Griffith a senior boffin, and for reasons still unclear to this day, was declined for support. Despite this, Frank submitted the patent for his design to the Intellectual Property Office in January of 1930 and in 1935, with the support of Power Jets LTD and financial backing of British Thomson-Houston, Whittle began construction on the first engine.

This engine had a single-stage centrifugal compressor coupled to a single-stage turbine. The prototype was successfully bench-ran in April 1937 and the contracts from initial interest began flooding in. Whittle received a contract for an engine known as the W1 on July 7, 1939, intended to power a small experimental aircraft.

However, Germany took the record for development when in 1939, a German engineer called Hans von Ohain built the first jet plane to take to the sky. Despite this, in February of 1940, the Gloster Aircraft Company was chosen to develop the Pioneer or E28, that the W1 engine would power; the historic first flight of the Pioneer took place on May 15, 1941, 12 years after Whittle had first had the idea.

Thank you, Frank

Frank Whittle retired from the RAF in 1948 and received a knighthood. He passed away in 1996. He has since been memorialized in a statue near his Coventry birthplace.

He was an incredible visionary of the 20th century and hundreds of American and British aircraft are based on his original turbojet prototype. From his dream, we can all enjoy the incredible industry that is aviation. We thank and appreciate this underrated genius for his contributions and their impact on private travel in present times.