Wednesday, January 19, 2022
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Frank Whittle, inventor of the turbojet

Flying and engineering were passions from an early age for Frank Whittle, who was admitted to the RAF at the second attempt and did so well as an engineering apprentice at Cranwell that he gained promotion to become an officer pilot.

Whittle developed the concept for a turbojet engine during his training, taking out a patent in 1930, and was admitted to Cambridge University where he gained a first-class honours degree.

In 1935, lacking the £5 needed to renew it, Whittle allowed his patent to lapse, but in the same year he persuaded hesitant investors to fund development with a concise explanation of his concept:

“Reciprocating engines are exhausted. They have hundreds of parts jerking to and fro, and they cannot be made more powerful without becoming too complicated. The engine of the future must produce 2,000 hp with one moving part: a spinning turbine and compressor.”

Whittle received a knighthood in 1948 and later emigrated to America, becoming a research professor at the US Naval Academy.

This is one of a series of stories about the impact of new thinkers, installed on the walls of the Islington head office of Innovate UK’s Knowledge Transfer Network.

Kasper de Graaf
Kasper de Graaf
Kasper is a writer and producer with wide experience of innovation in cities, industry and institutions. He has delivered innovation schemes in Vancouver, Istanbul, London, Manchester, Glasgow and numerous other cities. Kasper led the South Bank IQ research study about innovation in South London and co-authored the study ‘Creating a Manchester Design Manifesto’ with Lou Cordwell. He is a director of the design group Images&Co and the arts and culture organisation 2NQ, a steering board Member of the UK Design Action Plan ( and vice-chair of the Finsbury Park Trust. He has produced Design Manchester’s annual public debate about design and society since 2014 and chaired it since 2018. [Photo: Jake Bernard]


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