Sir Frank Whittle was an RAF officer attributed for starting the Jet Age. Born in Coventry on 1 June 1907, Whittle was accepted into the Royal Air Force (RAF) in 1923. By 1928 he was a qualified pilot officer. By working alongside his father, Whittle learned much about engineering from a young age and it greatly interested him. Combining his love for flight and engineering, Frank Whittle began to develop revolutionary ideas.
Prior to graduating as a pilot officer, Whittle wrote a brilliant thesis. Entitled “Future Developments in Aircraft Design”, the thesis put forward that airplanes could achieve high speeds and long ranges only if they fly at high altitudes. In order to do this, he determined that rocket propulsion and propellers driven by gas turbines were necessary.
While studying at the Central Flying School to become an instructor in 1929, Whittle began developing the turbo-jet engine idea. This involved a gas turbine moving a plane due to the jet caused by hot exhaust gas. The Air Ministry rejected his idea. Nonetheless, Whittle patented the turbo-jet in 1930.
In 1932 Whittle began attending the Officers’ Engineering Course. He averaged 98% in his exams, so the RAF sent him to study Mechanical Sciences Tripos at Cambridge University. At the time he was also working on his turbo-jet engine. With the assistance of some friends and investment bankers, Power Jets Limited was established in November 1935. Whittle had to overcome a number of development issues, along with working hard to promote his ideas. In two years (normally it takes three), Whittle completed his Tripos, but was given another year at the university to conduct research. He now began to gain government backing for his project, though this brought its own challenges, it also provided him with access to top technicians and graduates.
Following development of the W1 turbo-jet engine, work began on the more powerful W2. Whittle encountered some problems with the Air Ministry. Despite this, in May 1941, the allied’s first turbo-jet, the Gloster E28/39, took to the air. Power Jets introduced the W1X to General Electric in the U.S.A, after they expressed an interest. The Americans created the Bell XP-59A Airacomet, which had its first flight in October 1942. Frank Whittle designed the Rolls Royce Welland engine that was used in a British jet fighter called the Meteor by 1944.
Power Jets was nationalized in 1946 and Frank Whittle decided to join RAF’s Gas Turbine section. In 1948 Whittle was knighted, and also retired from the RAF. During the 1950s he assisted various aviation companies as a consultant, later moving to the U.S.A. A true visionary, he continued to write articles throughout his life. Sir Frank Whittle OM, KBE, CB, FRS, FRAeS passed away in August 1996.
The B-24 Liberator, as successful as it was in its missions, has always remained in the shadow of the older B-17 Flying Fortress. Ironically, the B-24 had an overall greater military capability than the B-17 and the B-24 was produced in far greater numbers.
When Consolidated Aircraft won the contract to produce the B-24 for the United States Army Air Corps, they had less than a year to deliver the first plane. They met the terms of the contract with two days to spare. The XB-24, as it was known then, first rolled off the production line in the last days of 1939 and made its first flight out of Lindbergh Field. The following year, Consolidated incorporated several design adjustments for the B-24 before it was finally ready. Changes included modifying the nose, cockpit, and windscreen. Meanwhile, France had ordered 120 of the bombers for their air force, but in 1940, shortly before they received them, the country fell to the Germans. The B-24s designated for France were then purchased by Great Britain for the Royal Air Force. The RAF ordered an additional 164 of the bombers. These became the LB-30 Liberator Mk II. In all, more than 18,000 Liberators were produced.
The design of the B-24 differed from older generation bomber aircraft in that it had a twin tail and tricycle landing gear in place of a rear wheel, otherwise known as a tail dragger. Also different from the B-17 is the B-24’s larger wingspan and its ability to carry a heavier payload. Here are some interesting facts about the B-24:
Maximum speed: 303 miles per hour
Cruise speed: 175 mph
Range: 1,080 miles
Ceiling: 28,000 ft
Length: 66 ft 4 in
Wingspan: 110 ft 0 in
Height: 17 ft 11 in
Maximum weight: 56,000 lb
Empty weight: 33,980 Ibs.
Engine(s): four 1,200-hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830-43 Twin Wasp radial piston engines
Rate of climb: 1,100 ft per minute
Armament: one (usually three) 0.5-in (12.7-mm) nose gun, two in dorsal turret, two in tail turret, two in retractable ball turret and two in waist positions; plus a maximum internal bomb load of 8,000 lb (3629 kg)
Contractor: Consolidated Aircraft.
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The Royal Air Force Museum is the only national museum in Britain which is completely dedicated to aviation. The museum is consists of two separate sites: Hendon in North London, and Cosford in Shropshire in the West Midlands. The exhibits at these two sites complement one another, offering a unique experience to those who choose to visit both.