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Frank Whittle and the jet engine

Context

1948. Sir Frank Whittle describes the invention of the jet engine.

Sir Frank Whittle was born in 1907 in Coventry and from an early age he was fascinated by aviation.

In 1923 he joined the Royal Air Force as a trainee mechanic and in 1926 he attended the RAF college at Cranwell, where he gained his first experience of flying.

Whittle had to write an essay as part of his course at Cranwell and he chose as his subject Future Developments in Aircraft Design. In it he explained how in future aircraft would not use propellers, but instead what we call today 'jet' engines.

In the 1930s Whittle continued his work on designs for a jet engine but it was not until the outbreak of war that the British government became involved and an aircraft powered by Whittle's engine was created.

Sir Frank Whittle was not the only pioneer of the jet engine but he is remembered today as a key figure in the development of a technology that transformed aviation and thus travel, allowing swift journeys to far-off destinations.

In this clip Whittle recalls the beginning of his involvement with the jet engine. The images show Whittle in 1948 with a model of his engine and an actual example of an engine of the type used to power the Gloster Meteor.

Transcript

I've been asked to tell you the story of jet propulsion, from the time 20 years ago when it was just an idea for making aeroplanes fly higher and faster, right up to the present. It's a long story, and there's one thing I want to say straightaway: what gave us the jet engine was not just the work of one man, say myself, but teamwork. There were those of us who designed the engines, the people who ran the works where they were made and the workmen, the men on the machines and at the bench, who had to build them from our drawings.

The story, as far as I'm concerned, begins in 1928. At that time I was a Royal Air Force cadet at Cranwell, being trained to be an officer. Well, the flight cadets at Cranwell had to write a thesis, a sort of essay, every term on a scientific subject.

What I wrote about in 1928 was the way aeroplanes were going to develop in the future. I thought they'd have to fly higher and faster. You'd think the aeroplanes we had in those days very slow indeed. I wanted to fly at about 500 miles an hour at a height of about 50,000 feet or more, where the air was so thin that there would not be a big resistance at such a high speed. I thought that this would only be possible with an entirely new kind of engine.

That was the start of the idea as far as I was concerned, although other people were also thinking about these things at the same time.

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