To coincide with the 70th anniversary of the first flight of a U.S. jet plane, the DVD “Whittle – The Jet Pioneer” will be released on Oct. 2.
The DVD, which will sell for $24.98, chronicles the story of Sir Frank Whittle, the aviator and engineer who invented the jet engine. The story is told against the backdrop of World War II and a race against the Nazis for air superiority.
The DVD reveals the titanic struggle of Sir Frank Whittle, a young officer in the British Royal Air Force who became one of the most influential Britons of the 20th century, according to the producers. As the Nazis took Europe into war, there was an intense race for air superiority between Germany and the Allies. It was Whittle who, at the age of 30, invented the gas turbine jet engine, the producers say, noting he was hailed as the father of “jet propulsion.”
Sir Frank Whittle did not know that German physicist and airplane designer Hans von Ohain was also working on jet engines in the late 1930s. Whittle was first to register a patent in 1930, however Hans von Ohain’s jet was the first to fly in August 1939. Sir Frank Whittle’s first jet flew in 1941.
Sir Frank Whittle tells his story in this feature length documentary originally made for the History Channel UK. “Whittle – The Jet Pioneer” includes exclusive interviews with veteran test pilot Captain Eric Brown and German jet pioneer Hans von Ohain. Their accounts are mixed with wartime color archive images of Whittle’s first jet planes.
With no government support, Whittle and two retired RAF officers formed Power Jets Ltd. to make the world’s first jet engine. Despite limited funding, Whittle built a prototype that first ran in 1937. By June 1939 Power Jets could barely afford to keep the lights on when skeptical British government scientists came to check Whittle’s progress. His engine ran for 20 minutes without difficulty and saved the turbojet project for Britain. By January 1940, the Air Ministry ordered a simple aircraft specifically to flight-test Whittle’s engine.
In 1941 his turbojet was sent to Boston, Massachusetts to enable General Electric to build the first American jet engine. In 1942 Whittle came to the U.S. to help with GE’s jet program. He said he was delighted by the can-do attitude of the Americans. His engine laid the foundation of the American jet engine manufacturing capability: the engine of every jet plane flying today is descended from Whittle’s first turbojet of 1937.
In 1948 Whittle retired from the RAF and received a knighthood. He joined BOAC as a technical advisor before working as an engineering specialist in one of Shell Oil’s subsidiaries. In 1976 he moved to Maryland where he accepted the position of NAVAIR Research Professor at the United States Naval Academy from 1977–1979. In 1996, Sir Frank Whittle died of lung cancer at his home in Maryland.