Frank Whittle, the son of a mechanic, was born in Coventry, England, on 1st June, 1907. He joined the Royal Air Force as an apprentice in 1923. He showed outstanding ability as a scientist and in 1929 took out a patent on a turbo-jet engine. However, the Air Ministry rejected his ideas as impractical.
Whittle studied at Cambridge University (1934-37) before forming the Power Jets Company. The Royal Air Force became more interested in Whittle's ideas in 1939 when they heard the news that Hans Ohain in Nazi Germany had developed the world's first jet plane, the HE 178. At first, it was thought that Ohain must have stolen Whittle's ideas but in fact they had both been working independently of each other.
Whittle's jet-propelled Gloster E28 took its first flight on 15th May, 1941 and travelled at speeds of 350 mph. This was followed by the Gloster Meteor that was used to intercept German V1 Flying Bomb. Power Jets Company was taken over by the British government in 1944.
Whittle retired from the Royal Air Force in 1948 with the rank of air commodore. He was knighted and granted a tax-free gift of £100,000 in recognition of his role in developing the jet-engine. He wrote about his experiences in his book, Jet: The Story of a Pioneer (1953).
In 1977 Whittle was appointed research professor at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis.
Frank Whittle died in Columbia, Maryland, on 8th August, 1996.