British Royal Air Force (RAF) engineer officer and Air Commodore Sir Frank Whittle, OM, KBE, CB, FRS, Hon FRAeS was born 1st June 1907 . He is credited with independently inventing the turbojet engine (some years earlier than Germany’s Dr. Hans von Ohain) and is regarded by many as the father of jet propulsion. The Turbojet Engine was designed to overcome the limitations of traditional piston-engine turbo-prop engines, which could only fly up to a certain speed and height, because above that the air-flow was too fast and too thin for it to perform effectively. From an early age Whittle demonstrated an aptitude for engineering and an interest in flying.
Determined to be a pilot, he overcame his physical limitations to be accepted into the RAF, where his abilities earned him a place on the officer training course at Cranwell. He began his RAF career as an apprentice where he demonstrated an aptitude for engineering and an interest in flying. Determined to be a pilot, he was eventually accepted into the RAF, where his abilities earned him a place on the officer training course at Cranwell, where he excelled in his studies and became an accomplished pilot.While writing his thesis there he formulated the fundamental concepts that led to the creation of the turbojet engine, taking out a patent on his design in 1930. His performance on an officers’ engineering course earned him a place on a further course at the University of Cambridge where he graduated with a First.
Despite this success, official interest in the Jet Engine was limited, so Without Air Ministry support, he and two retired RAF servicemen formed Power Jets Ltd to build his engine with assistance from the firm of British Thomson-Houston. Despite limited funding, a prototype was created, which first ran in 1937 culminating in the historic flight of May 16th 1941 and leading the way for others. Official interest was forthcoming following this success, with contracts being placed to develop further engines, but the continuing stress seriously affected Whittle’s health, eventually resulting in a nervous breakdown in 1940 so he resigned from the board in 1946 In recognition for his acheivements Sir Frank was later knighted by King George VI and In 1948 Whittle retired from the RAF and received a knighthood. He joined BOAC as a technical advisor before working as an engineering specialist in one of Shell Oil’s subsidiaries followed by a position with Bristol Aero Engines. After emigrating to the U.S. in 1976 he accepted the position of NAVAIR Research Professor at the United States Naval Academy from 1977–1979. In August 1996, Whittle sadly died of lung cancer at his home in Columbia, Maryland on 9th August 1996, but his legacy lives on, and three examples of Whittle’s Jet Powered Gloster Meteor can be found at the RAF Aerospace Museum in Cosford.