Air Commodore SIR FRANK WHITTLE OM
KBE CB FRS
FRAeS (1 June 1907
– 9 August 1996) was an English
Royal Air Force
From an early age, Whittle demonstrated an aptitude for engineering
and an interest in flying. At first he was turned down by the RAF but,
determined to join the Royal Air Force, he overcame his physical
limitations and was accepted and sent to No. 2 School of Technical
Training to join No 1 Squadron of
Cranwell Aircraft Apprentices. He
was taught the theory of aircraft engines and gained practical
experience in the engineering workshops. His academic and practical
abilities as an
Without Air Ministry support, he and two retired RAF servicemen formed Power Jets Ltd to build his engine with assistance from the firm of British Thomson-Houston . Despite limited funding, a prototype was created, which first ran in 1937. Official interest was forthcoming following this success, with contracts being placed to develop further engines, but the continuing stress seriously affected Whittle's health, eventually resulting in a nervous breakdown in 1940. In 1944 when Power Jets was nationalised he again suffered a nervous breakdown, and resigned from the board in 1946.
In 1948, Whittle retired from the RAF and received a knighthood . He
joined BOAC as a technical advisor before working as an engineering
specialist with Shell , followed by a position with Bristol Aero
Engines . After emigrating to the U.S. in 1976 he accepted the
position of NAVAIR Research Professor at the United States Naval
Academy from 1977–1979. In August 1996, Whittle died of lung cancer
at his home in Columbia, Maryland. In 2002, Whittle was ranked number
42 in the BBC poll of the
100 Greatest Britons
* 1 Early life * 2 Entering the RAF
* 3 Development of the turbojet engine
* 3.1 Power Jets Ltd * 3.2 Financial difficulty * 3.3 Changing fortunes * 3.4 Rover * 3.5 Rolls-Royce * 3.6 Continued development * 3.7 Nationalisation
* 4 After the war * 5 Later life * 6 Styles and promotions
* 7 Memorials
* 8 See also * 9 References * 10 Bibliography * 11 External links
Whittle's birthplace in Earlsdon , Coventry, England. (photo 2007)
Whittle was born in a terraced house in Newcombe Road,
After two years attending Milverton School, Whittle won a scholarship to a secondary school which in due course became Leamington College for Boys , but when his father's business faltered there was not enough money to keep him there. He quickly developed practical engineering skills while helping in his father's workshop, and being an enthusiastic reader spent much of his spare time in the Leamington reference library, reading about astronomy, engineering, turbines, and the theory of flight. At the age of 15, determined to be a pilot, Whittle applied to join the RAF .
ENTERING THE RAF
In January 1923, having passed the RAF entrance examination with a
high mark, Whittle reported to
RAF Halton as an
Whittle hated the strict discipline imposed on apprentices and,
convinced there was no hope of ever becoming a pilot he at one time
seriously considered deserting. However, throughout his early days as
an aircraft apprentice (and at the
Royal Air Force
For Whittle, this was the chance of a lifetime, not only to enter the commissioned ranks but also because the training included flying lessons on the Avro 504 . While at Cranwell he lodged in a bungalow at Dorrington . Being an ex-apprentice amongst a majority of ex-public schoolboys, life as an officer cadet was not easy for him, but he nevertheless excelled in the courses and went solo in 1927 after only 13.5 hours instruction, quickly progressing to the Bristol Fighter and gaining a reputation for daredevil low flying and aerobatics.
A requirement of the course was that each student had to produce a thesis for graduation: Whittle decided to write his on potential aircraft design developments, notably flight at high altitudes and speeds over 500 mph (800 km/h). In Future Developments in Aircraft Design he showed that incremental improvements in existing propeller engines were unlikely to make such flight routine. Instead he described what is today referred to as a motorjet ; a motor using a conventional piston engine to provide compressed air to a combustion chamber whose exhaust was used directly for thrust – essentially an afterburner attached to a propeller engine. The idea was not new and had been talked about for some time in the industry, but Whittle's aim was to demonstrate that at increased altitudes the lower outside air pressure would increase the design's efficiency. For long-range flight, using an Atlantic-crossing mailplane as his example, the engine would spend most of its time at high altitude and thus could outperform a conventional powerplant.
Of the few apprentices accepted into the
Royal Air Force
DEVELOPMENT OF THE TURBOJET ENGINE
Whittle continued working on the motorjet principle after his thesis work but eventually abandoned it when further calculations showed it would weigh as much as a conventional engine of the same thrust. Pondering the problem he thought: "Why not substitute a turbine for the piston engine?" Instead of using a piston engine to provide the compressed air for the burner, a turbine could be used to extract some power from the exhaust and drive a similar compressor to those used for superchargers . The remaining exhaust thrust would power the aircraft.
On 27 August 1928
Pilot Officer Whittle joined No. 111 Squadron ,
Hornchurch, flying Siskin IIIs . His continuing reputation for low
flying and aerobatics provoked a public complaint that almost led to
his being court-martialled. Within a year he was posted to Central
Flying School , Wittering, for a flying instructor's course. He became
a popular and gifted instructor, and was selected as one of the
entrants in a competition to select a team to perform the "crazy
flying" routine in the 1930
Royal Air Force
Whittle showed his engine concept around the base, where it attracted the attention of Flying Officer Pat Johnson, formerly a patent examiner. Johnson, in turn, took the concept to the commanding officer of the base. This set in motion a chain of events that almost led to the engines being produced much sooner than actually occurred.
Earlier, in July 1926, A. A. Griffith had published a paper on compressors and turbines, which he had been studying at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE). He showed that such designs up to this point had been flying "stalled", and that by giving the compressor blades an aerofoil-shaped cross-section their efficiency could be dramatically improved. The paper went on to describe how the increased efficiency of these sorts of compressors and turbines would allow a jet engine to be produced, although he felt the idea was impractical, and instead suggested using the power as a turboprop . At the time most superchargers used a centrifugal compressor , so there was limited interest in the paper.
Encouraged by his commanding officer, in late 1929 Whittle sent his concept to the Air Ministry to see if it would be of any interest to them. With little knowledge of the topic they turned to the only other person who had written on the subject and passed the paper on to Griffith. Griffith appears to have been convinced that Whittle's "simple" design could never achieve the sort of efficiencies needed for a practical engine. After pointing out an error in one of Whittle's calculations, he went on to comment that the centrifugal design would be too large for aircraft use and that using the jet directly for power would be rather inefficient. The RAF returned his comment to Whittle, referring to the design as being "impracticable".
Pat Johnson remained convinced of the validity of the idea, and had Whittle patent the idea in January 1930. Since the RAF was not interested in the concept they did not declare it secret, meaning that Whittle was able to retain the rights to the idea, which would have otherwise been their property. Johnson arranged a meeting with British Thomson-Houston (BTH), whose chief turbine engineer seemed to agree with the basic idea. However, BTH did not want to spend the ₤60,000 it would cost to develop it, and this potential brush with early success went no further.
In January 1930, Whittle was promoted to
Flying Officer . In
Coventry, on 24 May 1930, Whittle married his fiancée, Dorothy Mary
Lee, with whom he later had two sons, David and Ian. Then, in 1931,
he was posted to the
Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment at
His performance in the course was so exceptional that in 1934 he was
permitted to take a two-year engineering course as a member of
Peterhouse , the oldest college of Cambridge University , graduating
in 1936 with a First in the Mechanical Sciences Tripos. In February
1934, he had been promoted to the rank of
POWER JETS LTD
Still at Cambridge, Whittle could ill afford the £5 renewal fee for
his jet engine patent when it became due in January 1935, and because
Air Ministry refused to pay it the patent was allowed to lapse.
Shortly afterwards, in May, he received mail from Rolf Dudley-Williams
, who had been with him at
Cranwell in the 1920s and
The agreement soon bore fruit, and in 1935, through Tinling's father,
Whittle was introduced to Mogens L. Bramson, a well-known independent
consulting aeronautical engineer. Bramson was initially skeptical but
after studying Whittle's ideas became an enthusiastic supporter.
Bramson introduced Whittle and his two associates to the investment
bank O.T. Falk & Partners, where discusions took place with Lancelot
Law Whyte and occasionally
The impression he made was overwhelming, I have never been so quickly convinced, or so happy to find one's highest standards met... This was genius, not talent. Whittle expressed his idea with superb conciseness: 'Reciprocating engines are exhausted. They have hundreds of parts jerking to and fro, and they cannot be made more powerful without becoming too complicated. The engine of the future must produce 2,000 hp with one moving part: a spinning turbine and compressor.' — Lancelot Law Whyte
However O.T. Falk & Partners specified they would only invest in Whittle's engine if they had independent verification that it was feasible. They financed an independent engineering review from Bramson (The historic "Bramson Report" ), which was issued in November 1935. It was favourable and Falk then agreed to finance Whittle. With that the jet engine was finally on its way to becoming a reality.
On 27 January 1936, the principals signed the "Four Party Agreement", creating " Power Jets Ltd" which was incorporated in March 1936. The parties were O.T. Falk "> The Gloster E.28/39 , the first British aircraft to fly with a turbojet engine
These delays and the lack of funding slowed the project. In Germany, Hans von Ohain had started work on a prototype in 1935, and had by this point passed the prototype stage and was building the world's first flyable Jet aircraft , the Heinkel HeS 3 . There is little doubt that Whittle's efforts would have been at the same level or even more advanced had the Air Ministry taken a greater interest in the design. When war broke out in September 1939, Power Jets had a payroll of only 10 and Griffith's operations at the RAE and Metropolitan-Vickers were similarly small.
The stress of the continual on-again-off-again development and problems with the engine took a serious toll on Whittle.
The responsibility that rests on my shoulders is very heavy indeed.
... either we place a powerful new weapon in the hands of the Royal
Air Force or, if we fail to get our results in time, we may have
falsely raised hopes and caused action to be taken which may deprive
Royal Air Force
His smoking increased to three packs a day and he suffered from various stress-related ailments such as frequent severe headaches, indigestion, insomnia, anxiety, eczema and heart palpitations, while his weight dropped to nine stone (126 lb / 57 kg). In order to keep to his 16-hour workdays, he sniffed Benzedrine during the day and then took tranquillizers and sleeping pills at night to offset the effects and allow him to sleep. He admitted later he had become addicted to benzidrene. Over this period he became irritable and developed an "explosive" temper.
By June 1939, Power Jets could barely afford to keep the lights on when yet another visit was made by Air Ministry personnel. This time Whittle was able to run the W.U. at high power for 20 minutes without any difficulty. One of the members of the team was the Director of Scientific Research, David Randall Pye , who walked out of the demonstration utterly convinced of the importance of the project. The Ministry agreed to buy the W.U. and then loan it back to them, injecting cash, and placed an order for a flyable version of the engine.
Whittle had already studied the problem of turning the massive W.U. into a flyable design, with what he described as very optimisitic targets, to power a little aeroplane weighing 2,000 lb with a static thrust of 1,389 lb. With the new contract work started in earnest on the "Whittle Supercharger Type W.1 ". It featured a reverse-flow design; air from the compressor was fed rearwards into the combustion chambers, then back towards the front of the engine, then finally reversing again into the turbine. This design reduced the length of the engine, and the length of the drive shaft connecting the compressor and turbine, thus reducing weight.
In January 1940, the Ministry placed a contract with the Gloster Aircraft Company for a simple aircraft specifically to flight-test the W.1, the Gloster E.28/39 . They also placed a second engine contract, this time for a larger design that developed into the otherwise similar W.2 . In February work started on a third design, the W.1A, which was the size of the W.1 but used the W.2's mechanical layout. The W.1A allowed them to flight test the W.2's basic mechanical design in the E.28/39. Power Jets also spent some time in May 1940 drawing up the W.2Y, a similar design with a "straight-through" airflow that resulted in a longer engine and, more critically, a longer driveshaft but having a somewhat simpler layout. To reduce the weight of the driveshaft as much as possible, the W.2Y used a large diameter, thin-walled, shaft almost as large as the turbine disc, "necked down" at either end where it connected to the turbine and compressor.
In April, the Air Ministry issued contracts for W.2 production lines with a capacity of up to 3,000 engines a month in 1942, asking BTH, Vauxhall and the Rover Company to join. However, the contract was eventually taken up by Rover only. In June, Whittle received a promotion to Wing Commander .
Meanwhile, work continued with the W.U., which eventually went through nine rebuilds in an attempt to solve the combustion problems that had dominated the testing. On 9 October the W.U. ran once again, this time equipped with Lubbock or "Shell" atomizing-burner combustion chambers. Combustion problems ceased to be an obstacle to development of the engine although intensive development was started on all features of the new combustion chambers.
By this point it was clear that Gloster's first airframe would be ready long before Rover could deliver an engine. Unwilling to wait, Whittle cobbled together an engine from spare parts, creating the W.1X ("X" standing for "experimental") which ran for the first time on 14 December 1940. On 10 December Whittle suffered a nervous breakdown, and left work for a month. Shortly afterwards an application for a US patent was made by Power Jets for an "Aircraft propulsion system and power unit"
The W1X engine powered the E.28/39 for taxi testing on 7 April 1941 near the factory in Gloucester, where it took to the air for two or three short hops of several hundred yards at about six feet from the ground.
The definitive W.1 of 850 lbf (3.8 kN ) thrust ran on 12 April 1941, and on 15 May the W.1-powered E.28/39 took off from Cranwell at 7:40 pm, flying for 17 minutes and reaching a maximum speed of around 340 mph (545 km/h). At the end of the flight, Pat Johnson, who had encouraged Whittle for so long said to him, "Frank, it flies." Whittle replied, "Well, that's what it was bloody well designed to do, wasn't it?"
Within days the aircraft was reaching 370 mph (600 km/h) at 25,000 feet (7,600 m), exceeding the performance of the contemporary Spitfires . Success of the design was now evident; the first example of what was a purely experimental and entirely new engine design was already outperforming one of the best piston engines in the world, an engine that had five years of development and production behind it, and decades of engineering. Nearly every engine company in Britain then started their own crash efforts to catch up with Power Jets. The W2/700 engine, or W.2B/23 as it was known to the Air Ministry. It was the first British production jet engine, powering early models of the Gloster Meteor.
In 1941 Rover set up a new laboratory for Whittle's team along with a production line at their unused Barnoldswick factory, but by late 1941 it was obvious that the arrangement between Power Jets and Rover was not working. Whittle was frustrated by Rover's inability to deliver production-quality parts, as well as with their attitude of engineering superiority, and became increasingly outspoken about the problems. Rover decided to set up secretly a parallel effort with their own engineers at Waterloo Mill, in nearby Clitheroe . Here Adrian Lombard started work developing the W.2B into Rover's own production-quality design, dispensing with Whittle's "reverse-flow" combustion chambers and developing a longer but simpler "straight-through" engine instead. This was encouraged by the Air Ministry, who gave Whittle's design the name "B.23", and Rover's became the "B.26".
Work on all of the designs continued over the winter of 1941–42. The first W.1A was completed soon after, and on 2 March 1942 the second E.28/39 reached 430 mph (690 km/h) at 15,000 feet (4,600 m) on this engine. The next month work on an improved W.2B started under the new name, "W2/500". In April Whittle learned of Rover's parallel effort, creating discontentment and causing a major crisis in the programme. Work continued, however, and in September the first W2/500 ran for the first time, generating its full design thrust of 1,750 lbf (7.8 kN) the same day. Work started on a further improvement, the W2/700.
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Earlier, in January 1940, Whittle had met Dr
Stanley Hooker of
Rolls-Royce , who in turn introduced Whittle to Rolls-Royce board
member and manager of their
When Rolls-Royce became involved, Ray Dorey, the manager of the company's Flight Centre at Hucknall airfield on the north side of Nottingham, had a Whittle engine installed in the rear of a Vickers Wellington bomber. The installation was done by Vickers at Weybridge. A flying test-bed enables testing to be done in flight without the aircraft depending on an untried engine for its own propulsion and safety. This was the first flying test-bed used to test a jet engine.
The problems between Rover and Power Jets became a "public secret" and late in 1942 Spencer Wilks of Rover met with Hives and Hooker at the "Swan and Royal" pub, in Clitheroe, near the Barnoldswick factory. By arrangement with the Ministry of Aircraft Production they traded the jet factory at Barnoldswick for Rolls-Royce's tank engine factory in Nottingham, sealing the deal with a handshake. The official handover took place on 1 January 1943, although the W.2B contract had already been signed over in December. Rolls-Royce closed Rover's secret parallel plant at Clitheroe soon after; however, they continued the development of the W.2B/26 that had begun there.
Testing and production ramp-up was immediately accelerated. In December 1942 Rover had tested the W.2B for a total of 37 hours, but within the next month Rolls-Royce tested it for 390 hours. The W.2B passed its first 100-hour test at full performance of 1,600 lbf (7.1 kN) on 7 May 1943. The prototype Meteor airframe was already complete and took to the air on 12 June 1943. Production versions of the engine started rolling off the line in October, first known as the W.2B/23, then the RB.23 (for "Rolls-Barnoldswick") and eventually became known as the Rolls-Royce Welland . Barnoldswick was too small for full-scale production and turned back into a pure research facility under Hooker's direction, while a new factory was set up in Newcastle-under-Lyme . Rover's W.2B/26, as the Rolls-Royce Derwent , opened the new line and soon replaced the Welland, allowing the production lines at Barnoldswick to shut down in late 1944.
Despite lengthy delays in their own programme, the
A cutaway General Electric J31 (I-16) turbojet engine based on the W.1 /W.2B
With the W.2 design proceeding smoothly, Whittle was sent to
Whittle's developments at Power Jets continued, the W.2/700 later being fitted with an afterburner ("reheat" in British terminology), as well as experimental water injection to cool the engine and allow higher power settings without melting the turbine. Whittle also turned his attention to the axial-flow (straight-through) engine type as championed by Griffith, designing the L.R.1. Other developments included the use of fans to provide greater mass-flow, either at the front of the engine as in a modern turbofan or at the rear, which is much less common but somewhat simpler.
Whittle's work had caused a minor revolution within the British engine manufacturing industry, and even before the E.28/39 flew most companies had set up their own research efforts. In 1939, Metropolitan-Vickers set up a project to develop an axial-flow design as a turboprop but later re-engineered the design as a pure jet known as the Metrovick F.2 . Rolls-Royce had already copied the W.1 to produce the low-rated WR.1 but later stopped work on this project after taking over Rover's efforts. In 1941, de Havilland started a jet fighter project, the Spider Crab — later called Vampire — along with their own engine to power it; Frank Halford 's Goblin (Halford H.1). Armstrong Siddeley also developed a more complex axial-flow design with an engineer called Heppner, the ASX but reversed Vickers' thinking and later modified it into a turboprop instead, the Python . The Bristol Aeroplane Company proposed to combine jet and piston engines but dropped the idea and concentrated on propellor turbines instead.
During a demonstration of the E.28/39 to
In January 1944 Whittle was awarded the
From the end of March, Whittle spent six months in hospital recovering from nervous exhaustion, and resigned from Power Jets (R and D) Ltd in January 1946. In July the company was merged with the gas turbine division of the RAE to form the National Gas Turbine Establishment (NGTE) at Farnborough, and 16 Power Jets engineers, following Whittle's example, also resigned.
AFTER THE WAR
In 1946 Whittle accepted a post as Technical Advisor on Engine Design
and Production to Controller of Supplies (Air); was made Commander,
Legion of Merit ; and was awarded the
Order of the Bath
During a lecture tour in the U.S. he again broke down and retired from the RAF on medical grounds on 26 August 1948, leaving with the rank of Air Commodore . He joined BOAC as a technical advisor on aircraft gas turbines and travelled extensively over the next few years, viewing jet engine developments in the United States, Canada, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. He left BOAC in 1952 and spent the next year working on a biography, Jet: The Story of a Pioneer. He was awarded the Royal Society of Arts ' Albert Medal that year.
Returning to work in 1953, he accepted a position as a Mechanical Engineering Specialist with Shell , where he developed a new type of self-powered drill driven by a turbine running on the lubricating mud that is pumped into the borehole during drilling. Normally a well is drilled by attaching rigid sections of pipe together and powering the cutting head by spinning the pipe from the surface, but Whittle's design removed the need for a strong mechanical connection between the drill and the head frame, allowing for much lighter piping to be used. He gave the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures in 1954 on The Story of Petroleum.
Whittle left Shell in 1957 to work for Bristol Aero Engines who picked up the project in 1961, setting up "Bristol Siddeley Whittle Tools" to further develop the concept. In 1966 Rolls-Royce purchased Bristol Siddeley, but the financial pressures and eventual bankruptcy because of cost overruns of the RB211 project led to the slow wind-down and eventual disappearance of Whittle's "turbo-drill". The concept eventually re-appeared in the west in the late 1980s, imported from Russian designs. (Russia needed the technology because it lacked high strength drill pipe .)
Turbine drilling is best used for drilling hard rocks at high bit RPM's with diamond impregnated bits, and can be used with an angled drive shaft for directional drilling and horizontal drilling. It competes though with moyno motors and increasingly with rotary steerable systems and is again out of favour.
As part of his socialist ideals, he proposed that Power Jets be nationalised; in part because he saw that private companies would profit from the technology freely given during the war. By 1964 he had deserted his previously socialist beliefs, going so far as to launch a fierce attack on the Labour candidate in Smethwick.
In 1967, he was awarded an Honorary Degree (Doctor of Science) by the
University of Bath
In 1987, he was awarded an Honorary Degree (Doctor of Technology) by
Whittle received the Tony Jannus Award in 1969 for his distinguished contributions to commercial aviation.
In 1976, his marriage to Dorothy was dissolved and he married
American Hazel S Hall ("Tommie"). He emigrated to the U.S. and the
following year accepted the position of NAVAIR Research Professor at
United States Naval Academy
Having first met Hans von Ohain in 1966, Whittle again met him at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in 1978 while von Ohain was working there as the Aero Propulsion Laboratory's Chief Scientist. Initially upset because he believed von Ohain's engine had been developed after seeing Whittle's patent, he eventually became convinced that von Ohain's work was, in fact, independent. The two became good friends and often toured the U.S. giving talks together.
In a conversation with Whittle after the war, Von Ohain stated that
"If you had been given the money you would have been six years ahead
of us. If Hitler or Goering had heard that there is a man in England
who flies 500mph in a small experimental plane and that it is coming
into development, it is likely that
World War II
In 1986, Whittle was appointed a member of the Order of Merit
(Commonwealth). He was made a
Fellow of the Royal Society
Whittle was an atheist.
Whittle died of lung cancer on 9 August 1996, at his home in
Columbia, Maryland . He was cremated in America and his ashes were
STYLES AND PROMOTIONS
* 1907–1923: Frank Whittle
* 1923–1926: Apprentice Frank Whittle
Officer Cadet Frank Whittle
Pilot Officer Frank Whittle
Flying Officer Frank Whittle
* The "Whittle Arch" is a large double wing-like structure situated
Whittle memorial at Lutterworth
* In 2015, Whittle's college at the
University of Cambridge
* Whittle Parkway in Burnham is named after him.
* One of the main buildings at the
Royal Air Force
* ^ A B Feilden, G. B. R. ; Hawthorne, W. (1998). "
* Brooks, David S (1997). Vikings at Waterloo: Wartime Work on the
Whittle Jet Engine by the Rover Company. Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust.
ISBN 1-872922-08-2 .
* Golley, John (1987). Gunston, Bill , ed. Whittle: the true story.
Shrewsbury, UK: Airlife Publishing Ltd. ISBN 9780906393826 .
* Golley, John (1997). Genesis of the Jet:
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