Documentary Traces Jet Development

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Arguably the most important invention of the 20th century celebrates a milestone on Oct. 2 and the date will be marked by the U.S. release of a documentary that traces the origins of the jet engine. It’s been 70 years since the first jet-powered aircraft flew in the U.S. In 1930, Frank Whittle, a 30-year-old RAF officer, patented the first turbojet design. The movie, Whittle: The Jet Pioneer shows how even with the Nazis building a gigantic war machine Whittle had a hard time convincing military leaders of the value of his invention until they finally sent some skeptical scientists to his lab for a demonstration in June of 1939. Within a year, under intense security, a simple aircraft designed for the propeller-less engine was flown under jet power. A derivative of the test aircraft, the Gloster Meteor, became the first Allied jet powered military aircraft in 1944. The U.K. sent Whittle and his invention to the U.S. in 1941 and the first jet flight on U.S. soil occurred on Oct. 2, 1942.

The Germans were also working on jets and were first to use them on military aircraft. Whittle moved back to the U.K. after helping General Electric develop and finally mass-produce engines that fundamentally changed aviation technology and enabled the relatively convenient global travel we now enjoy. Whittle was knighted in 1948 and worked for BOAC and Shell Oil before moving to the U.S. to work as a research professor at the U.S. Naval Academy. He died in 1996.