World War Engineers and Scientists (part three)

Whittle Jet Engine W2/700 - User Gaius Cornelius
Whittle Jet Engine W2/700 – User Gaius Cornelius

Sir Frank Whittle

There are many dubious postings on the subject of Sir Frank Whittle’s part in the invention and design of the jet engine but I would certainly like to set the record straight with regards to this. Sir Frank Whittle did indeed invent this form of propulsion and did indeed patent the turbojet before Hans van Ohain, the German jet aircraft pioneer co-accredited to this engine design. Ohain was certainly the first to have a turbojet fitted to an aircraft and make it flyable albeit initially rather unreliably. (Heinkel HE-178)Ohain however was an independent thinker and did develop a jet propulsion unit which ran from an electric motor and compressor. For this I sincerely feel, in my own opinion that he should be known as the co-inventor of the jet engine but not the turbojet – this honour should go to Sir Frank. Sir Frank should have been a few years ahead of Ohain but for the stubbornness of the British Air Ministry (read lack of vision) which would definitely have had a jet-powered aircraft in the skies before the Germans. In actual fact history tells us that most of Sir Frank’s efforts were sponsored by himself, two colleagues and British Thomson-Houston.

Years ago I was told by a merchant naval chief engineer that the reason why he liked the steam turbine propulsion unit so much better than the two stroke diesel units was all in the stupid waste of energy when making something go up and down to make something go round and round. He may indeed have read Sir Frank’s own mind – because this was one of the many reasons why a turbojet is superior in most ways to a petrol/gasoline powered reciprocating engine – a piston goes up and down which turns a propeller. Turbojet theory is not all that difficult to understand but the theory quickly becomes a nightmare when one gets into the complexities of design. Whittle had a great idea. Putting pen to paper was the best part, putting thoughts into a practical working unit nearly lead to early demise through frustration and nervous breakdowns. Ohain had the luxury of an excellent cash injection through the German defence initiatives. Modern jet aircraft use engines costing millions of dollars each with good reason. In the 1930s aircraft engines were all piston types, huge mammoths developing upwards of a thousand horsepower. Sir Frank initially entertained the thought of using the motorjet principle but the impractical weight constraint (in comparisons with standard propeller driven aircraft) led to the idea of using turbocharger technology i.e. exhaust gasses to feed a turbine/ compressor seemed like a very much more likely solution. And with Sir Frank’s engineering and scientific mind simpleness was indeed a solution but did he have the support of the government?

The Motorjet Principle.

The concept of a thermal engine was not new in the 1930s. Fuel was injected into a combustion chamber which had a force fed air supply from a compressor driven by a piston engine. The fuel was ignited which in turn resulted in a very high pressure inside this combustion chamber – in turn escaping through the exhaust resulting in thrust to move the vehicle or craft forward. Russian aircraft using this propulsion often used an air screw or propeller as well to increase the thrust. Whittle however cleverly calculated that there were no proven merits to using this system at the time – his concept was to use the exhaust gasses of a burning fuel air mixture to spin a turbine which in turn drove the compressor , the idea stemming from turbo charger technology.

The Turbojet.

Using supercharger compressor blade design at the time, Sir Frank modified the design and shape to become more efficient – this efficiency adding weight to his theories about jet propulsion. The air ministry in 1929 saw no merit to what they thought was a too simple, impractical form of propulsion and declined to consider any further thought to the matter. This lead to Whittle successfully filing patent on his design in 1930 which drew immense interest from Germany. Of course the air ministry, with absolutely no interest in promoting the turbo jet idea allowed the idea to become public knowledge which allowed Whittle to retain the rights to the engine. In 1935 the patent was allowed to lapse due to the indifference of the Air Ministry and Whittle’s lack of funds to renew. Whittle subsequently, with the assistance of two colleagues, two investment bankers and steam turbine specialists Thomson-Houston manufactured their first successful but dangerously uncontrollable turbojet in April 1937. In 1938 the W.U. fell under the Official Secrets Act of the time and put under government control which hampered Whittle’s efforts due to lack of public funding.

In mid-1939 the Director of Scientific Research made a visit to Whittle’s premises at Thomson-Houston and was totally convinced of the superior performance of the W.U. which resulted in immediate changes to their strategy which resulted in the necessary funding and manufacture of more Whittle Units.

In 1941 the first jet powered aircraft (Gloster-Whittle E28/39) took to the skies, built by the Gloster Aircraft Company.

Sadly, the Germans had won this race – for the most part caused by the lack of vision of the British Air Ministry.

Jet Engine Design.

The first of Whittle’s engines had control problems relating to the combustion process. It was caused by unburnt diesel (the fuel used at this stage) pooling in the combustion chamber of the U-1, Whittle’s first unit. The design eventually lead to an atomised fuel burner ten combustion chamber unit (the Whittle Unit), the combustion chambers all assembled externally from the compressor and turbine. The first successfully flown aircraft, the Gloster-Whittle, only had an 860lb thrust engine but could attain a speed of nearly 350 m.p.h. Engine thrust was too low to power fighter aircraft. Twin engine aircraft design became of interest.

The centrifugal design was chosen over the axial design although the axial design proved later to be superior. The reason for the original choice was put down to the engineers at the time having had much more experience with the centrifugal type compressor used in aero superchargers and turbochargers.

I’d appreciate any comments on this article – I’d really love the article to be an experience for any cadet, student or otherwise.

  • For some details on how the Brayton Cycle works see HERE. (This is a very good Wiki article – I certainly hope that you get Wiki’s wheel turning by making your donation).
  • Please read A PERSONAL REMINISCENCE, Truly a superb man.

Go back to Part Two or Part One

To Use or Not to Use

The concept of parts-ring is not a new one. There are virtually thousands of advertisers on the web giving information to potential clients that to even think of coming in competitively is as inane as trying to ride a bicycle up the Himalayas. But we kid you not, there is one pitfall – Who to go to? Continue reading “To Use or Not to Use”

The Master and his Human

On the news this morning I was saddened to hear that the Pitbull Society of South Africa seems to have moved it’s livestock to one of the suburbs of Cape Town. Now, most animal lovers will be heartened to hear that the Pitbull is indeed not just any animal – it can be a lovely domestic pet, a guard dog and a killer in the hands of the wrong people. Of course in most cases these people have been more cross bred than the animal itself but let us not be forlorn about it. In the hands of the wrong people they are known to keep the human population down, a champion can make thousands for the owner and of course, keep the lawyers and doctors in good business. Continue reading “The Master and his Human”

World War Engineers and Scientists (part two)

 In Operation Overcast, later known as Operation Paperclip the Americans took the cream of the German scientists, in many cases against President Truman’s order to exclude Nazi sympathisers, before the Russians could get hold of them. Scientists such as Wernher von Braun simply had their political biographies resketched by the Joint Intelligence Operatives. Von Braun in fact was an SS officer and therefore a member of the Nazi Party. One must look objectively at this venture however. If these top ranked scientists and Nazi sympathisers were not enrolled into the American space program the Russians would have and to American Intelligence this was a no-go area. Von Braun was, like most German scientists at the time, possibly a victim of circumstances – he had a passion for rocket development and by not joining the SS meant that he could not continue with this program. This account is also open to debate, many anti-Nazi lobbyists claiming proof that Von Braun was indeed a fully fledged party supporter.

Von Braun’s interest in space travel came about at an early age, he studied at the Technical University of Berlin and conducted many tests on liquid fuel rocket engines as a member of the Spaceflight Society. His mentorship was from Rumanian born

Hermann Oberth, a scientist that paved the way in many aspects to Von Braun’s theory on astronautics.

Note: Oberth, Russian Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, American Robert Goddard are accredited to being the fathers of rocketry and astronautics.

Von Braun led the team that pioneered the A4/V2 rocket, the first successful hit being England in September 1944. This weapon was powered by alcohol and liquid oxygen, a very heavy and bulky means of propulsion. This form of propulsion was also fitted to a piston driven test aircraft (HE112) which managed to fly and land using the burner alone. This form of flight however was dangerous due to the high flammable alcohol, oxygen mix which later made way to the safer Hellmuth Walter hydrogen peroxide, calcium permanganate engine.

After the war Von Braun was enlisted into a half-hearted rocket development program by the Americans which failed to compete with the Russian advancement. He developed the Redstone rocket which was used in the first live nuclear ballistic test, a similar but modified motor eventually been used in the Jupiter-C which launched the Explorer satellite. This successful launch finally paved the way to the Americans acceptance of creating their own space program and NASA an official government program in 1958. Von Braun became NASA’s director from 1960 until 1970 and promoted the Saturn rocket, the Saturn V being the rocket that launched the Apollo 11 to the moon in 1969.

Von Braun passed away on the 16th June 1977 due to cancer. He will always be known for his contribution to space flight and being the most outstanding rocket engineer of his time.

The V2 (Vergeltungswaffe 2) (Aggregat 4) Long Range Ballistic Missile

The V2 (or V-2) missile motor comprised of an alcohol/liquid nitrogen fueled motor, the fuel been delivered through two steam turbine pumps powered by a calcium permanganate and hydrogen peroxide mix. The missile shut off motor propulsion at about 50 miles up and guided to its target through a gyroscopic controlled navigation system. There is a lot of content on the web covering Von Braun, Operation Paperclip and the V2 missile, the best information on this weapon found on this site:


Motoring under a Full Moon

Jeepers, another hair-raising drive home from work.  Sitting in a two lane 100Km/Hr zone (60MPH) , two cars behind, a flashy white Mercedes doing a dirty number with his headlights – the guy had to get passed and he wanted to get passed badly. He might have had a bad case of diarrhea or hey, maybe even a microsecond of pulsating haemorrhoid’s but one thing was obvious he needed to show everyone that he was the king on this road. Continue reading “Motoring under a Full Moon”

Mistakes people make!

I was recently requested to screen prospects for a vacancy in a company looking at hiring suitably qualified receptionists. An advertisement was run through electronic media and I was totally overwhelmed by the response. Not by the quantity but by the quality. 90% of the wannabe’s did not read the ad properly so disqualified themselves immediately but what was worrying was the amount of response carrying pictures of these young females applying for work. The amount of people that attach their driver’s licence and personal identification to their curriculum vitae is frightening. Girls, this is a very, very dangerous practice. The companies allowing this free form of advertising distance themselves from this practice and openly discourage it in the form of warnings on every page. But alas, we still go ahead.  I know that most people looking for work are cash-strapped already but there should be some sort of control.  I think in such cases moderation is justified and should be mandated.

Sound Stage

We all hate dilemmas but here’s one that has me really in a tizz!  The Waka Waka (or Wukka Wukka) or World in Union? Which one? I recall watching the last game and obviously final of the 1995 rugby cup 1995 between South Africa and the New Zealanders. Of course the New Zealanders had to put up with the food poisoning of the previous night which lead to them losing. Fortunately I was only privvy to these details a week later in the local gossip paper but let’s be honest and say that Joel Stransky was our saviour. And Madiba. And Francois Pienaar and all the other players. But let’s double up on the honesty factor, PJ Powers sang her heart out with the World in Union. She is a huge icon in South Africa. How does Shakira fit into the picture. Well firstly I was very pissed off that I did not record the celebration concert to the opening concert. Secondly when they had a rerun I was not aware of it, just flicking through the channels caught my eye. And Shakira always catches my eye. Shakira dancing catches both eyes. Shakira doing the belly dance caught both eyes plus a whole lot of other things. Before I digress, PJ Powers is also beautiful but doesn’t do the belly dance. Shakira and PJ Powers both have beautiful voices but they are as different as cordite is to gunpowder, but they can both light your fuse.

So which song is your favourite? Yes, so Waka made it world wide.  Think about it, two different songs, 15 years apart. Shakira’s belly and PJ’s power.

Give us your comment.  Songs can be downloaded off YouTube