Wednesday, 4 October 2017
On 15th May 1941 during the London Blitz, flying at 25,000 feet, was a secret British experimental aircraft. It was the first Turbojet and, at 370mph, flew faster than any propeller driven plane.
The person who single handily invented the Turbojet was Frank Whittle and his story is, like that of Albert Einstein and Bertha Benz, one of absolute determination and belief to bring ideas to fruition and change the world.
Frank always wanted to fly. When old enough, he tried to enlist with the RAF but was rejected as too slight so he trained hard to become physically strong and eventually, was accepted. He quickly rose to become a top test pilot and engineer. Routinely top of his class, he won an engineering scholarship in Cambridge University. Awarded a Masters in Mechanical Engineering, his final theses was on a jet design.
Frank reasoned the height and speed of an aeroplane, which is limited by its propeller rotating in the air, could be vastly improved by an engine that created thrust.
His solution was a gas turbine engine. It used a fan to suck in compression chamber and ignite petrol in the compressed air which blasted hot gas through a nozzle to provide thrust. The engine would generate immense power even at high altitude, where the air is thin. He could not get Government funding for his idea as the design was considered to be unworkable. Determined he took out a patient in 1930 and progressed privately, setting up a company to build the jet. Foreign governments saw his patent, realised the importance of his design and began their own development. When the patent expired his cash strapped company could not even afford the £5 to renew it!
As war with Nazi Germany approached the Government started to see the jet could work and began to engage companies, like Rolls Royce, to support his work. Frank continued an aircroft manufacturer (Gloster) to build aircraft to test the jet. His amazing efforts were rewarded in 1941 with the flight of Britains first jet aircraft. The government engaged Rolls Royce to take over jet production.
Frank continued improving his design but at the end of the war his company was nationalised and he lost control of it in return for a knighthood and £100,000. However, Britain became the worlds leading producer of jet aircraft. In 1948, Frank moved to the USA with his wife, where he continued inventing and teaching engineering. He returned to the UK to give the Royal Institution Christmas Lecture for Children in 1954.
Seventy years on, if you are lucky enough to fly in a modern jet airliner like the Airbus A380, then here are some statistics. Cruising height 43,000 feet; speed 560mph; take off weight 575 tonnes; range 8,200 miles; wing span 79.75 metres (260 feet); length 72.72 metres (238 feet); maximum passengers 868. It is one of the largest aircraft ever built.
Air Commodore Sir Frank Whittle OM KBE CB FRS FRaS died in 1996 in the USA, honoured as an engineering genius and father of the jet engine.