Thursday, October 23, 2008

Frank Whittle


Today we celebrate Frank Whittle (1907-1996) for his contribution to aviation - the jet engine.

Frank Whittle, born in Coventry, UK, showed early signs of interests in engineering. His father, a mechanic and 'inventive' engineer, owned all the means necessary for young Frank to exercise his own inventiveness. At his father's Piston Ring Company workshop Frank became an expert in mechanics and the tools of the trade.

Frank's admiration for aviation also began early on. As an adolescent he spent much of his time reading about astronomy, engineering, turbines, and the theory of flight. By age 15, Frank knew he wanted to be a pilot.

Frank gained his flight experience in the Royal Air Force (RAF). This is also where he developed his thesis on jet propelled engines - and later witnessed his ideas come to fruition.

Frank's thesis argument simply stated: '..that planes would need to fly at high altitudes, where air resistance is much lower, in order to achieve long ranges and high speeds.' With support from the RAF, Frank formed Power Jets Ltd and began construction on his jet propulsion engine in 1936. By 1941 his invention was in the air. In short order, Frank's jet engines spread to the U.S. and eventually worldwide.

A note concerning Frank Whittle's ideas on political economy:

Frank was a long-time advocate of Socialism. He argued in favor of nationalizing the entire jet industry, but later changed his mind when his corporation was the only one to be nationalized - leaving his competitors, such as Rolls-Royce, free to prosper from the market boom in commercial aviation. That said, we can still recognize Frank's pursuit of self-interest as the leading motivation for his jet engine development - which consequently benefited all of society.


Sources:

Frank Whittle at:
BBC-Historic Figures
Wikipedia
BusinessWeek
The History of the Jet Engine

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