Air Commodore Sir Frank Whittle, OM, KBE, CB, FRS, Hon FRAeS (1 June 1907 – 9 August 1996) was a British Royal Air Force (RAF) engineer air officer. He is credited with single handedly inventing the turbojet engine. Whittle's engines were developed some years earlier than those of Germany's Dr. Hans von Ohain who was the designer of the first operational jet engine.
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 Aircraft Apprentice earned him a place on the officer training course at Cranwell. He excelled in his studies and became an accomplished pilot. While writing his thesis there he formulated the fundamental concepts that led to the creation of the turbojet engine, taking out a patent on his design in 1930. His performance on an officers' engineering course earned him a place on a further course at the University of Cambridge where he graduated with a First.
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 in one of Shell Oil's subsidiaries 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.
It's always interesting to read about the psychology/character of men who have achieved great things. Whittle seemed to be a proverbial free spirit and disliked the constraints on his style of learning; he prefered the freedom of a model aircraft society to the constraints of formal education:
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 College Cranwell), he maintained his interest in model aircraft and joined the Model Aircraft Society, where he built working replicas. The quality of these attracted the eye of the Apprentice Wing commanding officer, who noted that Whittle was also a mathematical genius. He was so impressed that in 1926 he recommended Whittle for officer training at RAF College Cranwell.A final point about Whittle is that his revolutionary design was dismissed by the powers that be as nothing important. This seems to be a common occurance throughout history, whereby individual men working off their own backs make breakthroughs which are dismissed by the so-called Elites of the day. If nothing else, reading about this makes one more inclined to disregard the opinions of todays elites/priests (be they secular priests like scientists, or spritual ones) who proudly proclaim that they know the truth, and that you should all worship them because of it, only to have their claims swiftly disproven (just like Lord Kelvin who proclaimed that "heavier than air flight is impossible").