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Famous inventors

Frank Whittle

Sir Frank WhittleSir Frank Whittle Sir Frank Whittle (1907–96) was an English air officer and engineer, best known for inventing the jet engine. Whittle's engines were developed some years earlier than those of the German engineer Hans von Ohain (1911–98) who was the designer of the first jet engine to go into operation, the Heinkel He-178. To begin with, jet engines were used to power military planes, but after World War II they were fitted to larger passenger planes and so launched the modern era of international air travel.

High-altitude propulsion

While still a young pilot in the Royal Air Force (RAF), Whittle realised that, in order for planes to achieve long ranges and high speeds they would need to fly at high altitudes, where air resistance was much lower.

Animation of a turbojet engineAnimation of a turbojet engineIn 1929 Whittle proposed using a fan enclosed inside the plane's fuselage to generate the fast flow of air needed to propel a plane at high altitude. A piston engine would use too much fuel, so Whittle chose a gas turbine engine—a type of engine that had already been invented—instead. The British Air Ministry were not interested in his idea, so Frank Whittle patented his turbojet engine himself in 1930.

Applying to be a pilot, Whittle was initially rejected by the RAF: at 160 cm (5 ft 3 in), he was too short. He became an apprentice aircraft mechanic instead, but so impressed his superiors with the quality of the model aircraft he built, he was accepted for officer training—and thus the chance to fly.

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