Whittle tests the 1st Jet Engine


Whittle tests the 1st Jet Engine

Rugby, Warwickshire The 12th of April 1937 AD

Frank Whittle succeeded in developing the jet engine in spite of rather than thanks to officialdom. As an RAF apprentice turned officer cadet he faced snobbery from his better off contemporaries; his thesis at Cranwell was a brilliant study entitled Future Developments in Aircraft Design, already moving away from prop engines to the motorjet but the Air Ministry in 1929 had his design ideas evaluated by a rival who not unnaturally found fault with them. Even when his designs came good he was to all intents and purposes cheated out of the fruits of his labours.
Happily for Frank Whittle and posterity the private sector came to his rescue in the form of investment bankers seeking what would (aptly) now be called ‘blue skies’ projects. O.T. Falk & Partners put the money up for his ideas to be reviewed independently, and when the results were positive they provided further funding for Whittle to develop a prototype while he was still studying engineering at Peterhouse College Cambridge . Even then the Air Ministry again used his rival, A.A. Griffiths, to evaluate Whittle’s work, the prize being funding for either Whittle or Griffiths! Griffiths was slightly more positive as regards the Whittle concept, but negative regarding some of the detail. Griffiths got the backing.
Though O.T. Falk gave notice that no more funds would be given to the project, Whittle and his engineering colleagues carried on regardless, and on April 12 1937 they tested the Whittle Unit engine at a facility in Rugby owned by British Thomson Houston. It passed the ground test with flying colours as it were, though the noise generated was so deafening that those not working on the project ran for cover when they heard it. Doors now opened, though there were still funding difficulties, and red-tape that made things more problematic than they should have been. Whittle himself suffered health problems, and his work was so demanding that he used ‘uppers’ to get through a long day and then needed tranquilisers to get any sleep at night.
Eventually Whittle won through, and the first jet plane flew on May 15 1941 from the Cranwell base where he had become an officer in the Twenties. With intelligent support the RAF might have been flying jets before WWII , with who knows what consequences for the shortening or even avoidance of that war.

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