What Is It? An engine that produces motion through backward discharge of a
jet of fluid.
Who Invented It? Frank Whittle (in England) and Hans von Ohain (in Ger-
The jet engine revolutionized air travel and aircraft design. Jets were also the starting point for rocket flight and rocket design, and thus for space travel. The speed of jet engines is an essential aspect of how we plan our travel, work, and leisure. Jets support larger aircraft and carry greater loads.
Propeller planes reached speeds of 200 mph by the 1930s. By 1920, two-engine prop planes had the range to fly passengers around the world. However, flight was still a luxury for the rich. Engineers knew that propeller planes would soon reach their upper limit for speed and range.
Two men, each totally unaware of the other’s work, developed a jet engine. One, Frank Whittle, worked in London. The other, Hans von Ohain, worked in secrecy for the German military. Whittle was the first to develop a working jet engine, but Ohain’s was the first to fly.
In 1926, 21-year-old airplane mechanic Frank Whittle began to study the idea of airplane propulsion without propellers. In 1928, he decided that a gas turbine could create a jet of hot exhaust gas capable of propelling a plane.
Gas turbine engines were well known by this time, being used to create mechanical action (e.g., turning a motor shaft or driving a pump). Fierce plumes of exhaust gas jetted out of the rear of these turbines. Whittle calculated that a supercharged burner would exhaust a greater volume and velocity of gas than the volume that entered. This differential would create forward motion for a plane.