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Frank Whittle

Sir Frank Whittle (June 1, 1907 - August 9, 1996) was one of the key figures in the early development of the jet engine. Along with Hans von Ohain he is considered the co-inventor.

Whittle was born in Earlsdon, Coventry. He left Leamington College in 1923 to join the RAF. In 1926 he started pilot training at the RAF Staff College at Cranwell[?] in Lincolnshire. He passed out in 1928, ranked second in his class and a "Exceptional to Above Average" pilot. By 1930 he had patented a turbojet engine. However there was very little interest and Whittle went on the Officers' Engineering Course at RAF Henlow, Bedfordshire in 1932 and then to Peterhouse College, Cambridge in 1934, graduating in 1936 with a First in the Mechanical Sciences Tripos.

In 1935 he was approached by two ex-RAF men, Rolf Dudley-Williams and J. Tinling to expand the development of his engine. A company was incorporated in 1936, Power Jets Ltd., and work was started on a first engine at a British Thomson-Houston (BTH) factory in Rugby. The first engine was tested in April 1937 and showed an alarming tendency to race out of control. But the Air Ministry took an interest and gave 6,000 to continue testing. There was a successful run in March 1938 at Lutterworth. Following the outbreak of WW II the Air Ministry ordered a protype programme, with engines from Power Jets and airframes from the Gloster Aircraft Company.

The first flight was on May 15, 1941 from Cranwell at 7.40 pm, when an experimental Gloster E. 28/39[?] (or G.40) powered by a single paraffin-fuelled Whittle Supercharger Type W.1 engine producing 390 kg of thrust flew for seventeen minutes piloted by Flight Leiutnant Gerry Sayer reaching a maximum speed of around 545 km/hr. Later the same airframe fitted with a 770 kg W.2 engine flew at approximately 724 km/hr.

However the Ministry bypassed Power Jets and offered shared production and development contracts direct to BTH and Rover. The Air Ministry was eager to obtain an operational aircraft and authorising BTH to press ahead with a twin-engined jet interceptor. This Gloster Rampage evolved to become the Gloster Meteor. Whittle went to Boston in the USA in mid 1942 to help the General Electric jet programme. The Bell XP-59A Airacomet flew in the autumn of 1942. Whittle returned to England where Rolls-Royce were given charge of engine construction and Whittle was in control of development. Power Jets was nationalised as Power Jets (Research & Development).

Whittle retired from the RAF with the rank of Air Commodore in 1948 and was made a Knight of the British Empire (KBE) in that same year. He became a technical advisor to BOAC, he emigrated to the US in 1976 and was a Professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland. He died in Baltimore.

Frank Whittle had married Dorothy Lee in May 1930 and they had two sons. Whilst at Cranwell he lodged in a bungalow at Dorrington. The marriage was dissolved in 1976 and Whittle re-married, to Hazel Hall.

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