Flight plan

My flight plan....

This blog is to inspire and motivate those pining for the skies. I will also virtually open the flight deck door and allow a peek behind the scenes.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Frank Whittle - Mr. Jet Engine

Sir Frank Whittle

The Discovery Channel will soon be starting a new series called, "Inventions that Shaped the World." We aviation enthusiasts all agree the jet engine has to be near the top of the invention list thus their series will discuss Sir Frank Whittle - the British inventor of the jet engine. They have been recruiting a pilot  for the jet engine taping and I'm on the short list - I think. They want someone who has sound knowledge of Frank Whittle so I've been doing research.

Frank Whittle – The inventor of the modern jet engine

A weapon of war and innovator of travel, this noisiest invention changed the world. Frank Whittle envisioned a device capable of propelling aircraft at speeds of 500 mph to stratospheric heights but this came with much personal and external struggle. His story incorporates genius, denial, danger, with constant bureaucratic challenges and government intervention. You could say his story paralleled many pilot’s stories with twists, turns and dead ends, but perseverance bears the test of time.

Most pilots know at an early age they are destined for the skies. Frank Whittle knew it too, but took three times to be enlisted in the RAF (Royal Air Force). Originally destined to be a mechanic in the RAF, his superiors noted brilliance among this small statured young man standing at the RAF’s minimum pilot height at 5’ 3”. His passion for flight and intelligence opened the door to the pilot program. Actually, he came six in a class of hundreds and only the top five made the cut. Luckily for all of us, one candidate did not pass the medical allowing Frank to pursue his dreams as a pilot and later as an inventor with passinate vision.

A RAF prerequisite in becoming a pilot included writing a paper. Frank wrote, “Future Development in Aircraft Design.” This raised many eyebrows amongst the higher ranks of the military, so they channelled him to further schooling. While others were determined to make a better more powerful engine to drive a propeller, Whittle’s eureka moment came when he postulated blasting air out of a gas turbine. He knew the propeller could go no further proving at higher altitudes (lower pressure) the jet engine would shine as a better performer.

Whittle was so adamant about his vision he took out a patent at the startling age of 22. Deemed an exceptional pilot he tempted the envelope by dare devil acts. His superiors labelled it over confidence, but sometimes that’s what it takes, tempting the envelpoe.

War breeds invention, so the Germans also independently researched the jet engine with their first jet engine powered flight occuring in 1939. Their engine turned out to be non sustaining because the engine had to be rebuilt after every flight. Coupled with the fact their jet engine lacked a patent, it gave Whittle the distinction of the inventor of the jet engine.

Finally, after many uphill battles, the first British jet powered aircraft left the surly bounds of earth in 1941. It soared to 30,000 feet during its flawless flight proving the concept was here to stay.

The British government nationalized Whittle’s private endeavours striping him of royalties, and due recognition even to this day. I bet if I asked most pilots who invented and developed the jet engine (including me) they would be lost for an answer.

The British finally gave the concept to the Americans after the war. The first jet airliner, the Comet, emerged in 1952. Described as fast, quiet and comfortable, it kicked off the “jet set” age. However, a year later four of them fell out of the skies due to fuselage deterioration around the windows because its square windows were conducive to stress fractures. Boeing rose to the forefront with the B707 capable of travelling at speeds of nearly 600 mph surpassing even Whittles dream.

B777's engine - the world's most powerful commerial jet engine. A "whittle" wonder!

Here's some facts I mustered up for the above picture found in enRoute's Altitude page (April 2009)

  • The Boeing 777 utilizes the world’s most powerful commercial jet engine with a whopping 115,300 pounds of thrust

  • The GE 90-115B has a weight of 18,260 lbs (8283 kg)

  • It’s made by GE Aviation a subsidiary of General Electric

  • The engine has a fan width of 128” (325 cm). Wider than Air Canada’s Embrarer cabin

  • It’s wide enough to stand a regulation NBA basketball hoop (ten feet) inside

  • One could fit a H1Hummer (87”, 220 cm width) inside

  • Its overall width is 135 inches (343 cm) (outside to outside)

  • At take off thrust, a single GE90 engine can ingest around two million cubic feet of air per minute

  • Approximate value: $20 million U.S

  • Measuring more than four feet long and weighing less than 50 lbs, the blade is made from carbon fiber and a toughened epoxy matrix

  • There are 22 fan blades on the GE90-115B engine and is the only composite fan blade in commercial aviation

  • This engine helped set the world’s longest flight for a commercial airliner at 22hrs 42 minutes


Mark said...

That’s a very interesting read on Frank Whittle. Hope you get the gig on Discovery Channel. Would be great to see you being interviewed on TV as the resident expert. As you outlined that the B777 engine is the world’s most powerful, do you have “engine envy” over Ian since that is what he flies? Or, are you just fine with the A320's smaller power plant?

Memopilot said...

Hello captain ¡¡

I tought it was the Germans the only ones with the credit for the jet engine, i mean the Me-262 was the most famous of the WW2 times i see i was wrong.

Wish you luck and hope to see you on the Discovery Channel

From the Flight Deck said...

Mark. I would have engine envy if I was still flying the A340-300 because it was a little under powered. Flying the A319 and A320 the thrust is good
but the A321 is a different story - it's a bit of a dog. I don't think Ian has these puppies strapped to his wings. I think he mentioned BA's 777a are a little
older. Maybe Ian can correct me?

From the Flight Deck said...

Memopilot. I too thought the same thing. Thanks for the post. How is the flying going in Mexico?

Capt. Doug

Ian said...

Hello Doug

Our early 777s did indeed have GE-90s, but the vast majority of our fleet are equipped with the Rolls Royce Trent 800 series.

The newest Trent 895 engine entered service in 2000 powering rated at 95,000 pounds in thrust. This engine was selected to power our fleet going forward. Main reason it was chosen over the Brit connection - lighter weight - which according to Rolls Royce can be as much as 8,000lbs per aircraft in weight saved!

Hope that helps!

P.S. Snowing like crazy - Gatwick amongst others was closed...


Ian said...

I meant to say - good luck getting the slot on the TV.

As you know, one of my female first officers a few months back found your photo very handsome - so that might also woo the production team as well as your encyclopaedic aviation knowledge!

Cheers, Ian

ktcanuck said...

It is interesting that you say the engine is the only one running composite fan blades as Rolls Royce pioneered this technology in the sixties with the first RB211.In the process, the technology failure almost brought Rolls and Lockheed, who banked on the engine for the L1011 Tristar to their knees.

Any idea what GE has done to make it work after all this time?

From the Flight Deck said...

Ian. Back from flying. Thanks for the informative post. Doug

From the Flight Deck said...

Ian. The thing is my interview was over the phone. Reminds me of the joke some people claim about our flight attendants, "we hired over the phone." (I better watch what I say or an Air Canada f/a will set me straight)

Having said that, the rep from Discovery said she looked at my blog. You'll have to thank your female F/O for the compliment again and again and again... Lo-Res photos help. :)

From the Flight Deck said...

ktcanuck. I didn't know composite blades have been around that long. Sounds like GE has things figured out. Capt. Doug

Memopilot said...

Hey ¡¡ Thanks for asking, its going well, but slow by now. Hope to finish by this year.

Regards cap

From the Flight Deck said...

Memopilot. Glad to hear you are still working at becoming a pilot! Good for you. Capt. Doug