A Blue Plaque will be unveiled in Cambridge on Tuesday, 13 January at 2 pm to commemorate Sir Frank Whittle, the man who invented the jet engine and is one of the Founding Fathers for the Royal Academy of Engineering.

Ian Whittle, Sir Frank’s son, will carry out the unveiling of the Plaque which will be fixed on one of the gateposts of the University of Cambridge Engineering Department, Trumpington Street, where much of the early work was inspired and carried out.

Frank Whittle began his research into the jet engine in 1929 while in the RAF. His proposals were initially rejected by the Air Ministry as "quite impracticable" but he persevered.

Whittle further developed his work when he went up to Cambridge in 1934 as a mature student, completing a three-year Mechanical Science Tripos in just two years. During this time he lived with his family in a house on Harston Road in Trumpington.

After completing his studies Whittle was assigned full time to the development of the jet engine by the RAF and the first run of an experimental model was achieved in April 1937. The first flight of Frank Whittle’s jet engine took place on 15 May 1941 when an E-28-39 aircraft, manufactured by the Gloster Aircraft Corporation, made a 17 minute flight, piloted by test pilot Gerry Sayer.

The jet engine has gone on, not only to revolutionise air travel, but also to play an important part in gas turbines for the propulsion of ships. The principles of the jet engine are also used in the electricity generation industry.

Ian Whittle said:

"My father said inventing the jet engine was easy. Making it work was the difficult bit!"

The Cambridge Blue Plaque Committee have arranged the mounting of the plaque in conjunction with the University Of Cambridge and the Sir Arthur Marshall Institute For Aeronautics, (SAMIA). SAMIA is a virtual institute within the Engineering Department at Cambridge, headed by the Francis Mond Professor of Aeronautical Engineering, Professor Bill Dawes. The Institute was formed in 2001, as a result of a close collaboration between the University of Cambridge Engineering Department and Marshall Aerospace. Its aim is to maintain the University Department at the forefront of aerospace engineering, including safety, noise minimisation, the economy, the environment and technological advance.

Professor Dawes said:

"A high priority of SAMIA is to support research work which emphasises the interdisciplinary nature of aeronautics, drawing on very specialist fields. It is entirely fitting for SAMIA to be associated with this event to the memory of Sir Frank Whittle, who carried out so much of his early research whilst a student at Cambridge University."

David Adamson, Director of the University’s Estate Management and Building Service, said: "So many of the great inventions that have benefited humanity originated in this historic city. We are very happy to work with the City on its Blue Plaque programme to commemorate them."

Cambridge City Councillor John Durrant, Chairman of the Cambridge Blue Plaque Committee, said: "We are pleased to promote this commemoration. Sir Frank Whittle’s work in Cambridge is of extraordinary significance to the modern world and demonstrates the importance of the historic partnership between the City and the University."

Notes for editors

  1. The Department of Engineering’s entrance is on the west side of Trumpington Street, close to the junction with Lensfield Road.
  2. Invited guests at the unveiling will include:
    Ian Whittle, Hillary Whittle, Robert Marshall (Marshall Aerospace), Jonathan Barker (Marshall Aerospace), Terry Holloway (Marshall Aerospace), Martin Broadhurst (Marshall Aerospace), Sir William Hawthorne, Professor W N Dawes, CUED, Professor John Green, Professor J L Stollery, Mr Graham McIntyre (Lockheed Martin UK Information Systems), Phil Ruffles, Sir Ralph Robins, Keith Mans, Trevor Truman, John Sharman (Spectrum Capital Ltd), and Ken Maciver (Compuserve)
  3. Ian Whittle (Frank Whittle’s son), Professor Bill Dawes (University of Cambridge) and Terry Holloway (Marshall Aerospace and SAMIA) will be available for interview to camera, microphone or pen on site after the unveiling.
  4. In 1986 Margaret Thatcher said: "Sir Frank is one of the great engineers of the twentieth century. He has helped to change both the way we live and the worked in which we live. His work has made possible the kinds of journey our ancestors never imagined. His pioneering work on jet engines, his perseverance over the development of the project and his continuing contribution to science and technology are never to be forgotten. His life and work are an object lesson on the creativity and inspiration of British engineering at its best. He has always retained his great gift of original thought and exposition."

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For further information please contact Tim Holt on 01223 766754/332300