Sir Frank Whittle

Engineer, and Jet Engine Co-inventor

Plaque Honours Genius Behind Jet Engine

By Stephanie Busari, PA News

Sir Frank Whittle, the co-inventor of the jet engine, will be commemorated this week with a blue plaque at Cambridge University’s engineering department where he carried out his pioneering work.

Sir Frank Whittle was born in Coventry, West Midlands on June 1, 1907.

He is described as one of the “greatest aero-engineers” of the 20th Century.

Whittle ensured Britain was the first to enter the jet age when, on May 15, 1941, the jet-propelled Gloster-Whittle E 28/39 flew successfully from Cranwell, Lincolnshire.

The first test flight lasted 17 minutes and achieved a top speed of 370mph. This was faster than the Spitfire or any other conventional propeller-driven machine.

His engineering genius led to the creation of several other aircraft: the RAF’s Gloster Meteor, which saw action during the latter stages of the Second World War; the de Havilland Comet, the world’s first passenger jet, and Concorde.

Whittle is credited alongside German student Hans von Ohain with inventing the jet engine. They were both awarded the Charles Stark Draper Prize in 1991 and in 1992 were jointly given the SAE Aerospace Engineering Leadership award.

Whittle was the eldest son of working class parents Moses and Sara Alice.

His interest in aircraft began when his father gave him a toy aeroplane when he was four.

Whittle was only 21 when he developed the initial idea for the jet engine in 1929. His concept was to use a gas turbine to produce a propelling jet.

He was turned down by the RAF twice because of a height restriction – he was only 5ft. He finally succeeded in 1923, aged 16, after failing to declare his previous applications.

He was knighted by King George in 1948 and received the Order of Merit from the Queen in 1986.

Whittle died of cancer in August 1996, aged 89.