Byline: By Jane Stirland
HUNDREDS of people gathered in the centre of Coventry yesterday to honour one of the city's greatest sons.
A bronze statue of Sir Frank Whittle, whose jet engine revolutionised air transport across the world, was unveiled in Millennium Place on the centenary of his birth by his pilot son Ian.
But before he performed the official unveiling, Whittle junior had some harsh words for the air ministry of the time his father first presented his idea, which he said had completely failed to grasp its potential.
Ian Whittle said the young Frank first approached the ministry in October 1929 when he was a 22-year-old pilot officer.
"Sadly, the officials failed to perceive the viability and strategic importance," he said.
"They undertook no research and failed to make it secret. This led to a 6 1/2 -year hiatus before private enterprise rescued the technology from oblivion in Great Britain.
"In the meantime, the patent he applied for in 1930 was approved and entered the public domain in 1931. As is quite normal, the intelligence spread to other countries. The cat was out of the bag!
"Had private enterprise and RAF support not come to the rescue when it did, it is unlikely we would have had any turbojet work under way in Britain until we were alerted to developments elsewhere.
There would have been very little for us to be proud of today."
Mr Whittle, who lives in Surrey, recalled how the seeds of his father's lifelong passion for the aeroplane were first sown.
He said: "In 1916, when he was a nine-year-old and a pupil at Earlsdon Primary School, a biplane made a forced landing on Earlsdon Common. The children ran to get a close look at the aeroplane. Frank Whittle ran his inky fingers over the fabric covering the wing and touched the bracing wires . . . later, when the aeroplane was started up and made to take off, Whittle had strayed across the grass and was directly in the way of the fast-approaching machine.
"He ducked as it lifted off just in time to soar over his head. The wind blast from the propeller blew his school cap away into a gorse bush."