Remarkable jet engine blueprints drawn by Sir Frank Whittle during World War II expected to fetch £30,000 at auction
- Sir Frank Whittle, a British RAF engineer air officer, is credited with inventing the turbojet engine that influenced the course of World War Two
- A collection of 220 drawings and letters that detail the development of the engine will be sold at Bonhams auction house on November 12
- The archive is contained in a 'special file' and is said to be one of the most important and complete archives of a technological development
By Sarah Griffiths
Published: 14:32 GMT, 22 October 2013 | Updated: 16:56 GMT, 22 October 2013
A unique archive charting the wartime development of the jet engine by the pioneering engineer Sir Frank Whittle is expected to fetch up to £30,000 at auction next month.
Sir Frank, a British RAF engineer air officer, is credited with single handedly inventing the turbojet engine - one of the major technological developments of the 20th century.
The archive, which consists of around 220 drawings, blueprints, specifications, memoranda and letters, effectively tells the story of how it was developed during the crucial period in the early years of the war.
A unique archive charting the wartime development of the jet engine by the pioneering engineer Sir Frank Whittle is expected to fetch up to £30,000 at auction next month. This sketch of how the engine would work (pictured) is among the papers for sale
It will be sold at Bonhams' sale of Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Historical Photographs in London on November 12, when experts expect it to fetch between £20,000 and £30,000.
Bonhams specialist Matthew Haley said: 'This is one of the most important and complete archives on a technological development which has shaped all our lives.
'It is a fascinating insight into the often tortuous way in which an idea takes shape and progresses through trial and error against the backdrop of the misunderstandings and professional frustrations common to any project.'
Sir Frank, a British RAF engineer air officer, is credited with single handedly inventing the turbojet engine - one of the major technological developments of the 20th century
The development of the jet engine influenced not only the course of World War Two but underpinned the huge expansion of commercial aviation in the post war period.
It enabled planes to fly at high altitude and at speeds of over 500 miles per hour for the first time.
A 2002 BBC poll of the 100 Greatest Britons ranked Sir Frank at number 42.
The archive is contained in a 'special file,' which belonged to Henry Nathan Sporborg, who was senior director and chief engineer of British Thomson-Houston.
The archive, which consists of around 220 drawings including this one, blueprints, specifications, memoranda and letters, effectively tells the story of how it was developed during the crucial period in the early years of the war
The company manufactured the engine for Frank Whittle and Power Jets Ltd, under contract from the Air Ministry, between January 1940 and June 1941.
Sir Frank had been working on his idea of a jet engine since 1930 and with financial backing, had established the company, Power Jets Limited, to develop the idea further.
He attracted no interest from the War Ministry, however, until the late 1930s when the combination of the threat of war and the technological advances which Whittle was able to demonstrate changed official minds.
The development of the jet engine influenced not only the course of World War Two but underpinned the huge expansion of commercial aviation in the post war period. Pictured is a letter from the Ministry of Aircraft Production
By 1940 the Ministry was writing to Mr Sporborg emphasising the importance of the work.
One extract from the papers that will be sold, said: 'I hope that if you are fully aware of the great importance that the Air Ministry attach to the development of this Whittle engine you will take all steps in your power to ensure that no unnecessary delay occurs in the completion of these engines and that you will do all in your power to assist Power Jets Limited in their work.'
Sir Frank's genius lay in realising that propeller engines, with their hundreds of complicated working parts, were approaching the limit of their capacity.
Another intricate drawing by Sir Frank Whittle showing the workings of the jet engine. His genius lay in realising that propeller engines were approaching the limit of their capacity. To enable planes to fly at speeds of over 500 miles per hour he proposed using a variant on the internal combustion engine with the hot gases used for propulsion
SIR FRANK WHITTLE'S JOURNEY
- Air Commodore Sir Frank Whittle (1 June 1907 – 9 August 1996) was a British Royal Air Force engineer air office.
- He is credited with single handedly inventing the turbojet engine.
- Born in Coventry, he was accepted into the RAF, where his abilities earned him a place on the officer training course at Cranwell.
- It was there that he formulated the fundamental concepts that led to the creation of the turbojet engine, taking out a patent on his design in 1930.
- Without Air Ministry support, he and two retired RAF servicemen formed Power Jets Ltd to build his engine with assistance from the firm of British Thomson-Houston.
- Despite limited funding, a prototype was created, which first ran in 1937.
- Official interest was forthcoming following this success.
- His engines were developed some years earlier than those of Germany's Dr. Hans von Ohain who was the designer of the first operational jet engine.
- In 2002 Sir Frank was ranked number 42 in the BBC poll of the 100 Greatest Britons
To enable planes to fly at high altitude and at speeds of over 500 miles per hour he proposed using a variant on the internal combustion engine, which directly heats the air by combusting fuel, with the resultant hot gases used for propulsion.
With far fewer components than propeller engines this also had the advantage of being much simpler to maintain.
Sir Frank is reported to have said: '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 2000 horsepower with one moving part: a spinning turbine and compressor.'
His work was developed some years earlier than that of Germany's Dr Hans von Ohain who was the designer of the first operational jet engine.
Each worked separately and knew nothing of the other's work.
Whittle was the first to register a patent for the turbojet engine in January 1930, while Mr von Ohain was granted a patent for his turbojet engine in 1936.
However, Mr von Ohain's jet was the first to fly in 1939 - Sir Frank's jet first flew in in 1941.
Sir Frank, who was born in Earlsdon, Coventry, retired from the RAF in 1948, was a founding member of the Royal Academy of Engineering and received a knighthood. He later relocated to America and died in 1996 at his home in Columbia, Maryland.
Sir Frank's work was developed some years earlier than that of Germany's Dr Hans von Ohain who was the designer of the first operational jet engine. Whittle was the first to register a patent for the turbojet engine and his jet flew in 1941. This image shows a telegram telling the engineer to proceed with production of the engines
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Icons of British Engineering – Frank Whittle
The jet engine changed the way we travel. It made transatlantic flights possible, it made international transport practical, and it made modern tourism what it is today.
The man we have to thank for the existence of the modern jet engine is Frank Whittle, an Englishman from Coventry who, born in 1907, overcame social class, illness and financial difficulty to innovate a modern way of powering aircraft that changed civil and military aviation forever.
An engineering and mathematical genius, Whittle joined the Royal Air Force in 1923 at the third time of asking after forcing himself through extreme physical training to make the grade and falsifying his ID to get in. He joined as an apprentice but, due to his extraordinary talent, he was recommended for officer training at RAF College Cranwell, joining the ranks of public-school educated students who reputedly looked down upon Whittle.
As his thesis, the keen modeller selected a topic that – while certainly considered nothing new in a theoretical sense – had long been considered a practical non-starter: the motorjet. He proposed that as altitudes increased and air pressures dropped, such a system would become more viable and hence offer practical applications in long-distance travel. Ostensibly based on the concept of an afterburner linked to a propeller engine, the success of his thesis and his continued interest on the subject led him, by 1928 to conceive of an arrangement whereby a turbine could be used to extract power from the exhaust and drive a compressor akin to that found in a supercharger, hence the foundation of modern jet engines was laid.
A lifetime of innovation
What followed was over a decade of development work, battles for investment and attempts to convert others to believe that his propulsion design was viable all the while battling ill health. From being forced to let his patent lapse for lack of being able to afford the £5 renewal fee to finding ways to work on the project in his limited spare time without military support, Whittle had the strength of his convictions to keep pushing on, taking opportunities for investment when they arose and – eventually – suffering the financial disadvantage of freely giving up his shares on the business he had created to make jet engines a reality.
Through the war effort and reports that German engineers were working on their own jets, Whittle double his efforts and created numerous prototypes, enhancing the design again and again. While in the end jet planes did not feature significantly in WWII, they reached production in the late 40s as transport vehicles, by which time Rolls Royce had taken over primary production and Whittle’s company was long gone.
Throughout all this – and beyond – Whittle remained a loyal member of the Air Force and put himself and his colleagues under significant pressure to meet the high standards and tight deadlines demanded by his superiors.
Overcoming the odds
In his life, Whittle was disciplined many times for his daredevil piloting and yet went on to suffer from extreme stress conditions and numerous breakdowns, in part no doubt brought on by the stresses of maintaining an engineering business and feeling the weight of the Allied war effort resting on his shoulders as German engineers worked to perfect their own jet-powered aircraft.
Despite all this he soldiered through, relying on his drive and his talent to eventually be knighted and reach a rank of Air Commodore in the Royal Air Force before moving to the USA, eventually passing away at the age of 89 in Columbia, Maryland.
At Hobbs Valve we admire Whittle’s grit and his determination every bit as much as his engineering talent and gift for innovation in the face of cynicism and establishment rejection. He’s one of the people that made the present era what it is, and for that we salute him.