Obituary: Sir Frank Whittle

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As one of Sir Frank Whittle's staff at Power Jets Limited from 1940 to 1946, I saw the struggles for recognition for his company which he endured and which are described in his autobiography Jet (1953), writes G.B.R. Feilden. Anthony Furse [17 August] completely overlooks the fact that in the 1930s, before Power Jets was formed, Whittle had done his best to interest the engine departments of both Bristol and Armstrong Siddeley, but had been rejected on the ground that suitable materials for gas turbine blades were not available.

The establishment of Power Jets Limited in 1935, and the subsequent run of Whittle's first engine in April 1937 all took place in an atmosphere of official indifference. Surprisingly, this continued right up to the time of the first flights of the E28/39 Aircraft at Cranwell in May 1941, when the Air Ministry failed to send any senior representative, and refused to supply a photographer. The only record of that historic flight is in fact an amateur 16mm film.

While there were acute difficulties in the collaboration between Power Jets and Rovers, relations with Rolls-Royce were always friendly, and I remember demonstrating our W1 Engine to H.S. (later Lord) Hives in 1941, when he was evidently impressed. Unfortunately there was a delay in following up this demonstration as Rolls-Royce's Derby factory was bombed and top priority was to restore production of Merlin Engines. However, when Rolls- Royce did take over the Rover factories at Barnoldswick and Clitheroe in 1943, we began to make increasingly rapid progress.

Anthony Furse mentioned Whittle's claimed addiction to benzedrine. This was freely available over the counter at the time and was taken by hundreds of doctors and nurses during the war to help counter fatigue. Its addictive properties and side effects were not fully understood until later. With all the anxieties, intrigues and technical problems with which he had to contend, I consider that Whittle did marvellously well.

Everyone who worked with him has a lasting memory of a close-knit team with a sense of dedication and co-operation not often experienced. We have kept in touch through the succeeding 50 years: we knew we had been working for a genius.