What was the biggest single event in our industry?
You might argue that it was the first flight and I would argue that this was a series of short steps rather than a single great leap. The introduction of the first airmail service? The introduction of the DC3 marking point where aviation passenger travel became profitable in its own right?
To find the single moment when flight could blossom and the world suddenly became smaller you need look no further than the spark of an idea that was the Aircraft Jet Engine. And it might be easy to think that with this spark and the fuel that was the Second Great War, a product that would so obviously change our lives profoundly would have been seized upon.
But no. It took one man to conceptualize, to consider the problem and the limits of our then current technology and to put the pieces together to let the genie out of the bottle. The same man had to fight for his idea, develop it for his country and then watch his prize be handed away.
My vote, therefore, has to go to Sir Frank Whittle OM, KBE, FRS, Hon FRAeS.
Born in Coventry, England in 1907, he joined the RAF in 1923 as an apprentice. His commanding officer was so impressed that he recommended Whittle for officer training at the RAF College, Cranwell in Lincolnshire in 1926.Of the few apprentices that were accepted, even fewer completed the course and Whittle was the exception to the rule.
He graduated in 1928 at the age of 21, ranked second in his class in academics and an "Exceptional to Above Average" pilot. A requirement of the course was that each student had to produce a thesis for graduation.
In his thesis he argued that aircraft would need to fly faster and higher where the air was thinner in order to be more efficient. He could see that the propeller was unlikely to be the answer in these conditions and proposed a piston powered turbine engine (sometimes referred to as a motorjet). As his thinking continued, he realized that the weight and efficiency of the piston engine at altitude was a fatal flaw in the motorjet concept. He therefore proposed a supercharger-like compressor with a turbine to extract some of the energy to power the compressor; the remaining energy being used as thrust to power the aircraft.
This formed the basis of his submission to the Air Ministry in 1929 and his patent in 1930. The Air Ministry had an expert in AA Griffith, who had himself written a similar paper for what was essentially a turboprop. Griffith reviewed Whittle’s work and concluded that it was “impracticable”, so Frank was sent away and his work was considered not even worthy of being put on the Official Secrets list. Frank moved on to the Officers' Engineering Course at RAF Henlow, Bedfordshire in 1932 and then to Peterhouse college, Cambridge University in 1934.
He graduated in 1936 with a First in the Mechanical Sciences. The history that followed is well documented: the formation of Power Jets in 1936, the painful development through the war years and collaboration with Rover, being sent to work with General Electric in 1942 to help them develop US applications and a new partner in Rolls-Royce in 1943. By the end of the war every major engine company in Britain was working on jet designs based on the Whittle pattern or licensed outright. Power Jets had been nationalized and Whittle left the company in 1948.
There is a distraction to this story, however. When Frank had registered his patent in 1930, diplomats from Germany were quick to see its merits. It is said that copies were widely circulated in Germany at this time. So when, in 1941, a Gloster E28 had taken off with a Whittle jet engine installed the *** had already beaten him into the air. I
n 1939, a German engineer called Hans von Ohain had built the first jet to take to the sky. It was unreliable and could travel for only six minutes, but history had been made. Captain Eric “Winkle” Brown, one of the greatest test pilots in aviation history and surely another candidate for the title of “Greatest Aviation Person” says.
” It was Frank's invention and they just copied him," Interviewed for the Daily Mail for a December 7th article, he continued, “I interrogated von Ohain, who was very ambivalent about where he had got his ideas, but his sidekick was utterly straight-forward about it.He said that Whittle's patent had been in every technical library in Germany even before the war.”
"I have absolutely no hesitation in saying that Frank Whittle was the real inventor of the jet engine and that he could have produced a jet fighter by 1937 if the Establishment had been on his side."
I know of no other that put so much energy and inspiration into changing aviation to what we see today. If you agree, then most probably Sir Frank was the first person you thought of for this category, and that says it all.
I'm a conscientious man... when I throw rocks at seabirds I leave no tern unstoned. (Ogden Nash)
Et nom de dieu! C'est triste Orly la dimanche (Jacques Brel)
I second that ! Even if he did look like Mr Chumley-Warner!
Very true, i thought the guy looked familier
AirSpace - more than just hot air
Yes; Sir Frank certainly must be placed high on a list for eventual consideration. Whilst there were several others investigating the continuous-combustion concept as a method of getting away from the intermittent power pulses of the reciprocating piston engine and its large reversal forces re. pistons and conrods which was going to limit RPM on larger motors, he certainly managed to "cobble" together the three elements of rotating compressors, an air-cooled combustion chamber(s) and the rotating power-recovery/gathering bladed turbine section.
He had to hand much knowledge of each of these elements of course. Much work had already been done on centrifugal compressors for supercharging aircraft engines so Sir Frank had these available. Much had also been done on burners/combustion chambers for other purposes and Parsons had long before done the ground work on steam turbine aerodynamics for use in ships, power stations etc.; albeit operating at lower gas temperatures. So the main body of work and research had already been done. This in no way lessens Sir Frank's work and insight, for his skill was to "imagine" it all together in a light compact unitary form...a module of modules if you like. His dream was a small power-package that would readily fit into or onto a small aircraft such as an interceptor. The trick was how to obtain a useable amount of residual thrust after the compressor had used most of the energy garnered from the turbine blades?
And so on and so on...a wonderful story indeed.
But we must think of others to add to Sir Frank's entry.
Cheers from dakota67.
If you can bear with me again, I did mention above that we should bring to mind others for consideration so here are a few names off-top-of-head that may assist in stirring the memory banks a tad. I decided not to refer to books or web sites, but to just cast my mind back through a century of so many clever and influential individuals. Now let's see! (it would be easier if it was divided into, say, technical and flying people). The following are not in any grading order.
Jimmy Dolittle, Charles Lindberg, Frank Whittle, Charles Kingsford-Smith, Bill Boeing, Donald Douglas, Juan Trippe, Clyde Cessna, Geoffrey De Havilland, Claude Dornier, A.V.Roe, R.J.Mitchell, Kelly Johnson, Igor Sikorsky, Carl Spaatz, Glen Curtiss, Werner von Braun, Mr. Bean....egad, this is difficult. Shall do some more pondering and make notes prior to typing.
A puzzled dakota67 signing off.
I agree. You could pick either of the Wright brothers I guess but what has tansformed aircraft into the engine of economic growth is the jet.
TOO bloody right!
WITHOUT Sir Frank, where would we be today? Flapping our arms?!
To quote one of my college lecture's; "Jolly good show old chap."
Three cheers for Sir Frank.
Rob_25:WITHOUT Sir Frank, where would we be today? Flapping our arms?!
Or possibly still flying around in DC-3s. Of course, some would say that's not necessarily a bad thing....
My wings are like a shield of steel.
Yes, it is indeed most interesting to contemplate where we would have gone had the gas-turbine engine never been 'invented'. Perhaps I could remind you kiddies that, as much as I loved flying the DC-3, we had advanced a good deal past it with reciprocating powerplants by the time the turbojets and turboprops began to supplant the big radials. Just take a look at the last of the intercontinental recips., the Douglas DC-7 and the Lockheed Starliner. Both were fast and high-flying airliners and could have carried many more passengers had the airlines configured them in what I now term "torture" class. I spent many hours in Economy class in DC-6Bs and advise that the seating was much more comfortable than today. Within the USA, affordable air fares had already arrived for, at least the Middle classes, using the DC-6 and Constellation plus other types such as the twin-engined Convairs and Martins. The big American radials were becoming more reliable and longer-lifed as they were refined. The P & W R-2800 was a wonderful powerplant and gave few problems on airline operations. I predict that, without gas-turbines, the airline industry would still have experienced rapid growth as the world economy advanced. In my retrospective crystal-ball imagination I can see Douglas and Lockheed (and maybe Boeing) having designed airliners with six or eight big and reliable radials of about 3,500 bhp for take-off and 2,000 on cruise. They would have been about 200 feet in span, 150 feet long and would have easily accomodated 200 pax. in the horrible seating pitch and width being used today. (the Japanese would have shoehorned in over 350!) These piston-engined "DC-8"s, "DC-10"s et al, would have climbed to about 30,000 feet (not much lower than today) and at those Flight Levels, would have attained cruise True Airspeeds of 340 to 360 knots; about 100 knots slower than today. Of course the turbo-jet was a wonderful advance, but the lack of it would certainly not have stalled the growth of the air transport industry during the post WWII economic recovery and expansion. By its very nature, Aviation never stands still and we always find a way...even if we may perhaps stumble now and then.........
dakota67 ...an unashamed BRT defender.
If you can bear with me as I reply to my previous post, a chum has has had the temerity to cast doubt on my predicton that future piston-engined airliners would have reached cruise speeds of only 100 odd knots below that of the early jets, such as the 707. (Had the jet engine not been invented). Let us briefly consider the Lockheed 1649 Starliner. As the 707 was coming on line, the 1649 was cruising at up to 327 knots in ISA conditions. The early 707 had JT3C-6 engines which produced 12,500 pounds of static thrust. (50,000 total). The Starliner's Wright Turbo-compound units (horrible as they were) would have produced about 10,500 pounds of static thrust. (42,500 total). Sure, its thrust would have reduced as a function of True Airspeed, but whilst the turbojet does not lose thrust as airspeed increases, it does lose thrust as a function of altitude. The L-1649 had an impressive Lift:Drag ratio of about 17:1 so at high altitude cruise at an Indicated Airspeed of about 1.7 Vs its total drag would have been only 10,000 pounds; therefore each prop was producing 2,500 lbs of thrust from perhaps 1,000 bhp. And with a Specific Fuel Consumption of approx. 0.45 lbs/hp/hour, its total fuel burn per hour would be some 1,800 lbs/hour = 250 Imp. gallons/hour. Now wouldn't that make the Greens jolly happy...gotta dash...will somebody check my figures please?
Sir Frank is definately the greatest.