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Whittle, Sir Frank

A Dictionary of Scientists

Whittle, Sir Frank 

(1907–1996) British aeronautical engineer

Whittle, the son of a mechanic from Coventry in the English Midlands, joined the Royal Air Force as an apprentice in 1923. He was trained at the RAF College, Cranwell, and Cambridge University, where he studied mechanical sciences (1934–37).

While still a student at Cranwell, Whittle had expressed his prediction that there would soon emerge a demand for high-speed high-altitude aircraft. He recognized the inadequacies of the conventional airscrew to meet these needs and took out his first patent for the turbojet engine in 1930. He gained little government backing but with the assistance of friends he formed, in 1936, the company Power Jets. By the following year, his first engine, the W1, was ready for testing. With the advent of World War II government funds were rapidly awarded to develop this and the jet engine was fitted to the specially built Gloster E28/39 aircraft. It made its first flight on 15 May 1941 and by 1944 was in service with the RAF.

For his work Whittle was made a fellow of the Royal Society in 1947, knighted in 1948, and awarded a tax-free gift of £100,000 by the British government. He left the RAF in 1948 and served as a consultant with the British Overseas Airways Corporation (1948–52), the Shell Group (1952–57), and Bristol Siddeley Engines (1961–70). In 1977 Whittle accepted the post of research professor at the US Naval Academy, Annapolis.