Air Commodore Sir Frank Whittle OM KBE CB FRS FRAeS
Founding Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering
Sir Frank Whittle OM KBE CB FEng FRS, one of the most creative engineers of all time. British pioneer of the jet engine, he made an extraordinary contribution to society despite many difficulties.
Frank Whittle was born in Coventry in 1907, the son of a skilful mechanic and inventor. From an early age he experimented in his father’s factory and was fascinated by the fledgling aviation industry. He joined the RAF in 1923 as an apprentice. His talents were soon recognised, and he qualified as a pilot at the RAF College, Cranwell, before reading Mechanical Sciences at the University of Cambridge. While at Cranwell he had developed a thesis on jet propulsion and patented his design in 1930, but officials at the Air Ministry dismissed his ideas as impractical. However, in 1936 he and some associates founded a company, Power Jets Ltd, to develop the theory.
Despite political and financial adversity, Whittle’s jet engine made its maiden flight on 15 May 1941, powering the purpose-built Gloster E28/39. By 1944 the engine was in service with the RAF. The technology quickly spread and has been fully exploited worldwide.