Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Whittle, Sir Frank (1907–1996)

British aviation engineer who invented the jet engine. Born on 1 June 1907 at Coventry, England, Frank Whittle entered the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1923 as a cadet at the RAF College at Cranwell. He graduated from its Air Apprentices Wing in 1926 and from the RAF College, Cranwell, in 1928. He dreamed of an aircraft able to fly at enormous speed and altitude, and his 1928 senior thesis, "The Future Developments in Aircraft Design," was on jet propulsion. Whittle qualified as a pilot, and in 1928, he joined a fighter squadron. Three years later, he became a test pilot. Whittle attended both RAF engineering school and, from 1934 to 1937, Cambridge University.

Although the Air Ministry challenged the idea of jet propulsion as impractical, Whittle persevered and secured a patent for his turbojet engine in 1930. Obtaining a leave of absence from the RAF, he tested his first jet engine on the ground in April 1937, the year after he and his backers formed Power Jets, Ltd. (nationalized by the British government in 1944). With the beginning of World War II, te British government supported his project. Whittle's first flightworthy engine, the W.1, took to the sky in May 1941 powering an experimental Gloster E.28/39 aircraft. This effort led to the twin-engine Gloster Meteor, which first flew in March 1943. The Gloster Meteor ultimately flew at nearly 600 mph and went into service in July 1944, only weeks after the debut of the German Messerschmitt Me-262. The first Royal Air Force jet aircraft, the Meteor played a major role in intercepting and downing German V-1s, and several improved Mk III Meteors performed ground-attack missions in Europe in the last weeks of the war. Subsequently, the U.S. Air Force copied Whittle's centrifugal jet engine in the twin-engine Bell P-59A.

In 1946, Frank Whittle received the Daniel Guggenheim Medal, and in 1948, he was knighted after having retired from the RAF as an air commodore. His book, Jet: The Story of a Pioneer, was published in 1953. In 1977, he became a research professor at the U.S. Naval Academy. Sir Frank Whittle died in Baltimore, Maryland, on 8 August 1996.

Kathleen Gaston Hitt


Further Reading
Bilstein, Roger E. Flight in America: 1900–1983. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984.; Golley, John. Genesis of the Jet: Frank Whittle and the Invention of the Jet Engine. Shrewsbury, UK: Airlife, 1996.; Whittle Frank. Gas Turbine Aero-Thermodynamics, with Special Reference to Aircraft Propulsion. New York: Pergamon Press, 1981.
 

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