FRANK WHITTLE AND THE INVENTION OF THE JET ENGINE:
SIX PLACES TO TRACE HIS GENIUS
It was, in many ways, a very British sort of achievement. When the turbine began to spin on the “WU” – the prototype jet engine developed by the Coventry-born engineer Frank Whittle – it was a moment which changed the world. Had you been passing through the byways of Rugby, in Warwickshire, more than 80 years ago, you might even have heard it. A thrum of mechanics in sync, building and building, growing in intensity to become a roar; a giddy howl which would permanently alter the way we journey around our planet.
And yet it might so easily not have happened. Whittle’s triumph – on April 12, 1937 – was garnered in the face of official indifference and scientific doubt, and was only pulled off by a merest financial hair’s breadth, with the Second World War crowding in on all sides.
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Here was a visionary who began fomenting his design for a jet engine as early as 1927, and patented it in 1930, yet had to swim against the current after seeing his idea pooh-poohed by the UK's Air Ministry – which, upon seeing the blueprint in 1929, deemed it “impracticable.”
Undeterred, Whittle took his own path. In January 1936, he founded a private company, Power Jets Ltd, with aeronautical engineer Rolf Dudley Williams and retired RAF officer James Collingwood Tinling. With £2,000 of funding from O.T. Falk & Partners – an investment bank which was known for taking risks – the trio began converting what had been decried as fantasy into reality. That first blur of blades as the WU (Whittle Unit) screamed into life was followed by a series of leaps forward.
The Air Ministry placed its first order for Whittle’s brainwave in January 1940. The first jet-powered British plane took off from RAF Cranwell, Lincolnshire, on May 15, 1941. The rest is so much history.
None of this occurred in isolation. The story of the jet engine can never be told without mentions of Maxime Guillaume, who secured a French patent for a jet engine with a gas turbine in 1921 (no prototype was ever produced as it was beyond the scope of existing technology), and of Hans Von Ohain, who beat Whittle to the punch by building the first fully operational jet engine in 1939 as Germany chased advantages in the global conflict.
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RAF = Royal Air Force
LEADBEATER, C. Adaptado de Frank Whittle and the invention of the jet engine: Six places to trace his genius. In: The Telegraph. Disponível em: <https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/unitedkingdom/england/articles/frank-whittle-and-the-birth-of-the-jet-engine/>. Acesso em: 08/06/2018