Frank Whittle – invention of the jet

Andrew Nahum sets the record straight while painting a colourful picture of a man who changed engineering history.

 

FRANK WHITTLE — INVENTION OF THE JET

Andrew Nahum

Icon Books/£6.99

‘Britain has fighter with no propeller’ ran the Daily Express headline in 1943. Following years of R&D, sweat, tears and self-doubt, Frank Whittle had unveiled his jet to the world. Yet at the moment of his greatest triumph, Whittle’s company, Power Jets, was forcibly nationalised.

This event and subsequent criticism by Whittle himself have led to inaccuracies in the telling of the story of the jet engine’s invention and also left in place some widely held misapprehensions. Nahum’s book capitalises on new archival evidence to present a balanced view of the story, which remains one of the most potent in the history of UK innovation.

Whittle is often portrayed as a victim of the establishment. Yet far from being maltreated and cast aside by government agencies, he in fact used his considerable charm and charisma to recruit support from the British government and RAF for his engine, even though there were, on the face of it, good reasons for not backing him at the time.

Tracing the story from Whittle’s initial foray into the RAF in 1923 as an aircraft apprentice, through his early jet ideas and the development of a prototype in his ‘derelict motor garage’, to the formation of the state-owned Power Jets (R&D), Nahum sets the record straight while painting a colourful picture of a man who changed engineering history.

Christopher Sell