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Jet engine

faster and higher aeroplanes Midlands,

Black-and-white photograph of an aeroplane flying overhead.
Gloster-Whittle E28/39, 1941. Science Museum/ Science & Society Picture Library

Frank Whittle (1907-96) was a cadet in the Royal Air Force in 1928 when he came up with an idea for a jet engine. He argued that this would enable aircraft to fly far higher and faster than with the standard piston engine and propeller.

Initially Whittle had problems financing his project, but by 1935 he had obtained some private backing. The Air Ministry also began to fund experimental tests. With this support the British Thomson-Houston plant at Rugby was commissioned to build a prototype to Whittle’s design.

In May 1941, the Gloster-Whittle E28/39 made its first flight with the experimental Power Jets W1 engine. The uniqueness of this innovation was highlighted when the pilot filled in the test flight report. Under the entry for type of propeller he wrote: ‘no airscrew necessary with this method of propulsion’.

The Gloster Meteor, the first British jet fighter and the first production jet, entered service with the RAF in July 1944.

Science Museum

Key Individuals
Frank Whittle,