The period between the two world wars was the period when the first serious ideas came about creating a jet plane. At the outset, this idea existed only in laboratories and in testing. This period was described by a continuous development from the slow wood-and-fabric biplanes of World War I to fast, sleek metal monoplanes, producing a big change in both commercial and military aviation. By the outbreak of World War II in 1939 the biplane was all but out-of-date. The jet engine also began growth during the 1930s but would not see operational use until later.
Although the main driving force behind the development of jet planes was the military issue, the invention of the jet engine had a far more notable social impact on the world within commercial aviation than in its military equivalent.
An interesting fact about jet engine is that it was separately produced to fulfillment at approximately the same time in two countries. England and Germany, two countries that would soon be in a war on separate sides. Two different scientists and aviation enthusiasts have simultaneously been able to come up with the same results and thus print new pages of aviation history.
Frank Whittle, an English aviation engineer, and pilot commonly noted as the father of the jet engine. He entered Royal Air Force as a mechanic trainee to service and repair airplanes. Under his exceptional intelligence, he was selected to train as an officer at the RAF College in Cranwell. After graduating from RAF college, he was set to a fighter squadron, and in his spare time he worked out the essentials of the modern turbojet engine, as he was mechanically skilled. At first, his idea was discarded and estimated to be impractical, both by the officials and private turbine engineering firm.
Whittle continued researching on his own and patented the idea in 1930. He made his research public and the features of his patent were accessible for public viewing. With two former airfare officers, he formed a company by the name of “Power Jets” and persuaded the government to grant financial support. By now the Royal Air Force was starting to take Whittle’s work gravely enough to assign him to the special-duty list, empowering him to continue operating on his engine.
In 1936, Whittle got limited financial aid and Power Jets Limited was established. Five years later, his engine performs its historic flight. Whittle tested his initial jet engine on the soil in 1937. This event is usually marked as the discovery of the jet engine. Although, the first operational jet engine was created in Germany by Hans Pabst von Ohain and powered the first jet-aircraft flight on August 27, 1939.
Hans Pabst von Ohain gained a Ph.D. in Physics and Aerodynamics from the University of Göttingen, one of the larger centers for aeronautical research at the time. After earning his degree in 1935, Ohain grew a first junior assistant and later director of the Physical Institute of the University. When his engine invention was finished, he filed a patent application that was initially denied by the patent office, referenced Whittle patent in 1930. However, after significant differences between the two ideas were established, he received his patent.
In 1936, von Ohain signed a consulting contract with the Heinkel Company in Rostock and following in Stuttgart for the expansion of his turbojet ideas. After conducting a research and development program, von Ohain created and designed a successful liquid-fueled engine, named HeS 1 (Heinkel-Strahltriebwerk 1).
The successor to this engine, HeS 3, was the first operational jet engine. On August 27, 1939, Heinkel He 178 was the first jet-powered aircraft to fly. The successors that followed, HeS 6, HeS 8, HeS 30, improved the system and led to more effective results. About further development of jet engine and impact on aviation development, you will read in our following blog texts.
In 1945, von Ohain emigrated to the U.S. and displayed an engineer for the U.S. Air Force at its engine development center where he resumed his work in both theoretical and experimental research in propulsion and energy and energy conversion. In 1956 he was made the Director of the Air Force Aeronautical Research Laboratory and by 1975 he was the Chief Scientist of the Aero Propulsion Laboratory. Von Ohain retired from Wright-Patterson in 1979 and took up an associate professor position at the nearby University of Dayton.
Whittle retired from the RAF in 1948 with the rank of Air Commodore and later shifted a consultant at BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation). Finally, he emigrated to the USA in 1976, where he took over a professorship at the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis. Frank Whittle was honored numerous times, such as receiving the knighthood and the James Watt International Medal.