Frank Whittle OM KBE

Frank Whittle OM KBE (1907 - 1996)

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Sir Frank Whittle OM KBE
Born in Earlsdon, Coventry, Warwickshiremap
Ancestors ancestors
Husband of — married (to ) in Coventry, Warwickshiremap
Husband of — married about [location unknown]
Descendants descendants
Father of and [private son (1930s - unknown)]
Died in Columbia, Howard County, Maryland, USAmap
Profile last modified | Created 2 Jan 2016
This page has been accessed 2,034 times.

Categories: Coventry, Warwickshire | Notables | Order of Merit | Knights Commander of the Order of the Bath | Commanders of the Legion of Merit | Engineers | English Inventors.

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  • Born 1 June 1907 [1] Earlsdon, Coventry, Warwickshire [2] [3] Frank was the eldest child of Moses Whittle & Sarah Alice Garlick. With brother Joseph Arthur, the family lived at Newcombe Road, Coventry in 1911 [4] before the family moved to the nearby town of Royal Leamington Spa where his father, a highly inventive practical engineer and mechanic, purchased the Leamington Valve and Piston Ring Company, which comprised a few lathes and other tools and a single-cylinder gas engine, on which Whittle became an expert. Whittle developed a rebellious and adventurous streak, together with an early interest in aviation.
  • Although having passed the RAF entrance exam in 1923, Frank failed the medical on two occasions, thereby eliminating any further chance for admittance. Undeterred, he applied again under an assumed name and presented himself as a candidate at the No 2 School of Technical Training RAF Cranwell. This time he passed the physical and, 364365 Boy Whittle, F started his three-year training as an aircraft mechanic.
  • His progress excelled and he was offered Officer training at RAF Cranwell, that included flying lessons. A requirement of the course was that each student had to produce a thesis for graduation: Whittle decided to write his on potential aircraft design developments, notably flight at high altitudes and speeds over 500 mph (800 km/h). In Future Developments in Aircraft Design he showed that incremental improvements in existing propeller engines were unlikely to make such flight routine. Instead he described what is today referred to as a motorjet; a motor using a conventional piston engine to provide compressed air to a combustion chamber whose exhaust was used directly for thrust – essentially an afterburner attached to a propeller engine. The idea was not new and had been talked about for some time in the industry, but Whittle's aim was to demonstrate that at increased altitudes the lower outside air pressure would increase the design's efficiency. For long-range flight, using an Atlantic-crossing mailplane as his example, the engine would spend most of its time at high altitude and thus could outperform a conventional powerplant.
  • Of the few apprentices accepted into the Royal Air Force College, Whittle graduated in 1928 at the age of 21 and was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in July. He ranked second in his class in academics, won the Andy Fellowes Memorial Prize for Aeronautical Sciences for his thesis, and was described as an "exceptional to above average" pilot.
  • During 1929, Frank was posted to Central Flying School, Wittering for a flying instructor's course. His engine concept caught the eye of Flying Officer Pat Johnson, formerly a patent examiner and with encouragement from the Commanding officer, Frank patented the idea in January 1930. Since the RAF was not interested in the concept they did not declare it secret, meaning that Whittle was able to retain the rights to the idea, which would have otherwise been their property.
  • That same month, Frank was promoted Flying Officer. Later that year, Whittle married his fiancée Dorothy Mary Lee on 24 May 1930 In Coventry,[5] with whom he later had two sons, David and Ian.
  • Through the 1930s Frank's career in the RAF progressed reaching the rank of Squadron Leader, having first attended Cambridge University, Peterhouse, graduating in 1936 with a First in Mechanical Sciences Tripos. The engine developed parallel with his RAF career through the company Power Jets, partly owned by the Air Ministry who permitted Whittle to be "Honorary Chief Engineer & Technical Consultant." Needing special permission to work outside the RAF, he was placed on the Special Duty List and allowed to work on the design as long as it was for no more than six hours a week.
  • The Air Ministry agreed to buy the prototype engine, loan it back to Power Jets, inject cash and placed an order for a flyable version of the engine "The Whittle Supercharger Type W.1." The Ministry in early 1940 placed a contract with the "Gloster Aircraft Company" for a simple aircraft to flight test the W.1, whilst placing a second engine contract for a larger design -- W.2.
  • In April 1940 the Air Ministry issued contracts for W.2 production lines with a capacity of up to 3,000 engines a month in 1942, with "Rover" taking it over In June, Whittle received a promotion to Wing Commander.
  • Meanwhile work continued on the flyable prototype W.1 and on 15 May 1941 the first fight took off from RAF Cranwell. Within days the aircraft was reaching 370 mph (600 km/h) at 25,000 feet (7,600 m), exceeding the performance of the contemporary Spitfires. Success of the design was now evident; the first example of what was a purely experimental and entirely new engine design was already outperforming one of the best piston engines in the world, an engine that had five years of development and production behind it, and decades of basic engineering.
  • In January 1944 Whittle was awarded the CBE in the New Year Honours. By this time he was a Group Captain, having been promoted from Wing Commander in July 1943. Powerjet's was nationalised in 1944. From the end of March, Whittle spent six months in hospital recovering from nervous exhaustion, and resigned from Power Jets (R and D) Ltd in January 1946.
  • In 1946 Whittle accepted a post as Technical Advisor on Engine Design and Production to Controller of Supplies (Air); was made Commander, the U.S. Legion of Merit; and was awarded the Order of the Bath (CB) in 1947. During May 1948 Whittle received an ex-gratia award of £100,000 from the Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors in recognition of his work on the jet engine, and two months later he was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE), Military Division.
  • During a lecture tour in the U.S. he again broke down and retired from the RAF on medical grounds on 26 August 1948, leaving with the rank of Air Commodore.
  • In 1976, his marriage to Dorothy was dissolved and he married American Hazel S Hall ("Tommie").[6] He emigrated to the U.S. and the following year accepted the position of NAVAIR Research Professor at the United States Naval Academy (Annapolis, Maryland).
  • In 1986 Whittle was appointed a member of the Order of Merit (Commonwealth).
  • Whittle died of lung cancer on 9 August 1996, at his home in Columbia, Maryland. He was cremated in America and his ashes were flown to England where they were placed in a memorial in a church in Cranwell.[7] [6]


  1. U.S., Social Security Death Index, (1935-2014)
  3. GRO Birth index Coventry, Vol. 6d, Page 549 q June 1907
  4. England Census 1911: Class: RG14; Piece: 18528
  5. GRO Marriage Index, Coventry Vol. 6d, Page 1690 q June 1930
  6. 6.0 6.1 Wikipedia contributors, "Frank Whittle," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed July 24, 2017).
  7. U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014 (SSN 217-90-7780)

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No known carriers of Frank's Y-chromosome or his mother's mitochondrial DNA have taken yDNA or mtDNA tests and no close relatives have taken a 23andMe, AncestryDNA, or Family Tree DNA "Family Finder" test.

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Frank is 23 degrees from Sharon Caldwell, 26 degrees from Burl Ives and 13 degrees from Victoria of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on our single family tree. Login to find your connection.

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