Recognising a Whittle Bit of Jet Engineering Genius

The Birmingham Post (England), June 1, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Recognising a Whittle Bit of Jet Engineering Genius

Byline: By Ben Goldby

He was the West Midlands genius who shrank the world and brought about the biggest migration in human history.

Thanks to Frank Whittle's jet engine more than 1.5 billion passenger journeys are made every year.

Today would have been the Coventry-born inventor's 100th birthday - and historians have been keen to pay tribute to a man regarded by many as the finest engineering mind of the 20th century.

His biographer, Nicholas Jones, said: "When Frank Whittle was designing his jet engine you very rarely met anyone from another culture - let alone travelled to distant continents.

"Now we see a mass migration of businessmen, holidaymakers and travellers every single day. That is all thanks to his influence and I would say that behind Winston Churchill he was the greatest Briton of the 20th Century."

Sir Frank rose from working class roots in post-First World War Warwickshire to become a key figure in Britain's rich engineering history. His ingenuity helped pave the way for the social and economic revolutions which followed the Second World War.

The way we communicate, do business and travel was to be changed forever. Without his jet engine there would be no business trips to China or holidays to Spain and Tony Blair's farewell world tour would be taking six months instead of six weeks.

Whittle succeeded against the odds in earning the respect of his peers and making the government of the day adopt his pioneering ideas - not an easy task for a "commoner" from Earlsdon in Coventry.

Having shown a natural aptitude for mathematics and science he was inspired to look at the world of aerospace after a draft from a low-flying bi-plane nearly knocked him off his feet as he strolled through a Warwickshire park. Suitably enthused he turned his attention to the tricky process of joining the officer corps.

After being turned away for being too short the determined young inventor took a friend's advice and underwent a series of rigorous exercises to increase his height.

He returned to the officer training school several months later - and three inches taller - to claim his place in the air force.

His ingenious jet engine was produced as a prototype but was initially too unreliable to convince the Government to adopt it.

At one stage he had to let his patent slip because he could not afford the pounds 5 cost of renewing it.

But with the help of some air force colleagues he was finally able to put the engine into mass production and it was quickly adopted by the Government for the fight against Hitler.

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