Monday, 9 May 2016

Celebrating the Jet Age

'The Wonder Jet' (1950) Central Office of Information film 
for the Ministry of Supply.  Crown Copyright.

Earlier this evening my sister, whose much more in touch with things aviation that I, informed me of something that had escaped my notice: that 15 May 2016 marks the 75th anniversary of the first flight of a British jet-powered aircraft.  Immediately my mind turned to the many books on the history of aviation I have for sale and I resolved to make a blog entry to mark the event.*

* It's called slipstreaming.

The turbojet was the brainchild of Sir Frank Whittle who was working on the idea from the late 1920s.  However, unlike his German counterpart Hans von Ohain, Whittle was unable to garner much government interest or support.  Thus, although Whittle filed a patent in 1930 it wasn't until March 1938 that funding was received from the Air Ministry and on 15 May 1941 that a Gloster E 28/39 (one of two built) became the first British jet-powered plane - some 18 months after the Heinkel He 178, powered by von Ohain's design.

Whittle's story is often told an example of the tendency of British innovation to be stifled by first indifference, and then interference, by government.  After his initial funding problems, the acceptance of Air Ministry funding by Power Jets Ltd meant that the company had to abide by secrecy regulations that limited its activities.  The nature of aircraft production during the war meant that development of the turboject was taken out of Power Jets' hands and farmed out to over companies - notably Rolls-Royce - and even worse, shared with Americans and Soviet allies.  Whittle had accepted the need for this as necessary to the war effort.  He even suggested that jet development be nationalised.  In the event, the Minister of Aircraft Production decided to nationalise Jet Powers Ltd only, valuing the company at a mere £100,00.  In 1944 Whittle received £10,000 for his shares and a CBE - with a further award of £100,000 from the Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors and advancement to KBE in 1948.

And the books?

You can see our list of aviation books here.


  1. It's amazing when you think of how different things might have been - Britain could have been THE world leader in all areas of jet aviation, civilian and military. So many possibilities!

    1. And let's not talk about the UK being the only nation to voluntarily give up satellite-launch capacity -