Engine of Vintage Thunderbird
Excerpt from government film with animation explaining
exactly how the jet engine works. (1:21, sound)
Frank Whittle was an English aviation inventor, engineer, and pilot who invented the jet engine. His engine was the prototype of turbojets used in many modern British and American aircraft.
Born in Coventry, Warwickshire, England in 1907, Frank Whittle entered the Royal Air Force (RAF) College in Cranwell in 1926 as a flight cadet and soon qualified as a pilot. He was posted to a fighter squadron in 1928 and served as a test pilot in 1931-32. Early in his career, Whittle became interested in jet propulsion for aircraft, and he proposed his idea first in 1928 in his senior thesis. But his ideas were ridiculed and neither the government nor private industry supported him. Whittle obtained his first patent for a turbojet in 1930.
He pursued further studies at the RAF engineering school and at the University of Cambridge during 1934-1937. In 1936 he and a group of associates organized a company called Power Jets, Ltd., to develop his engine.
Whittle ground-tested his first jet engine in 1937-the date generally given for the invention of the jet engine-although the first operational jet engine was designed in Germany by Hans Pabst von Ohain. Von Ohain's engine powered the first jet-aircraft flight on August 27, 1939. The first flight in an aircraft using Whittle's engine took place on May 15, 1941, in a British experimental fighter plane-a specially built Gloster E.28/39. By this time, the British government had begun to support Whittle's efforts, and it took over Power Jets, Ltd. in 1944. Britain's Gloster Meteor jet aircraft with the Whittle engine were used in the war against Germany's jet-powered Messerschmitt Me 262s.
Whittle retired from the RAF in 1948 with the rank of air commodore and was knighted that same year. He received the Churchill Gold Medal of the Society of Engineers in 1952 and was awarded the Order of Merit in 1986. In 1977 he joined the faculty of the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, as a research professor. His book Jet: The Story of a Pioneer was published in 1953. He died in 1996.