The jewel in the crown of Lutterworth and District Museum is its unique archive of memorabilia of Sir Frank Whittle, Power Jets and the early history of the jet engine. The museum holds the original patent for the concept of the jet engine, registered by Sir Frank in 1930. Power Jets was at the Ladywood Works in Lutterworth not 250 meters from the Museum from 1938 - 1944.

Did you know?

Power Jet’s old office building at the Ladywood Works in Lutterworth, from a first floor window of which Sir Frank shot-rabbits to supplement wartime food rations, still stands.

The first successful flight took place on May 15th 1941, from Cranwell in Lincolnshire. Sir Frank telegraphed his team of engineers at their offices in Brownsover Hall, Rugby, to tell them of its success. The team opened a precious bottle of champagne to celebrate, and each of them signed the label on the bottle. That bottle is displayed in our museum.

 

SIR FRANK WHITTLE FOUNDER OF THE JET ENGINE

Frank Whittle was born the eldest child of Moses and Sara Whittle in Newcombe Road, Coventry, on 1st June 1907.

His father, brought up in the shadow of poverty, had left school aged 11 to work in his local Lancashire cotton mill, eventually becoming a skilled and inventive mechanical engineer and, after moving south, owning a small engineering company.

In 1923 he reported to Cranwell to begin his apprenticeship. He had learnt not to give up, something that would prove useful later

In 1926, due to his outstanding qualities as an apprentice, he was awarded a cadetship at the RAF College at Cranwell to train as a Pilot Officer

His 2 years as a Flight Cadet ended in 1928 and he passed out with distinction, also winning the coveted Andy Gerrard Fellowes Memorial Prize for Aeronautical Sciences. Posted to Operational Squadron No.111 as a Pilot Officer, he moved to the Central Flying School in 1929 to qualify as a flying instructor.

Whittle was then placed on the Special Duty List and allowed to supervise the manufacture of components and the building of his WU engine, which he ran successfully at the British Thompson-Houston works at Rugby on 12th. April 1937

Unfortunately, in its early runs the engine showed a tendency to behave erratically so BT-H suggested that it might be safer if testing was continued up the road at a disused foundry they owned in Lutterworth.  Power Jets moved into the Ladywood Works on the east side of the Leicester Road at the beginning of 1938, the workforce consisting of Whittle and an assistant, Victor Crompton, with some BTH fitters and test hands.

Its replacement resulted in a further delay of almost 2 months. Testing resumed on 17th June 1939 and the engine was soon reaching speeds of 16,000 rpm, much higher than any achieved previously

Rooms were rented at Brownsover Hall, a large house on the northern edge of Rugby. Whittle moved his office there, taking with him his senior design staff. The main Design Drawing Office remained located in a large wooden hut at the Ladywood Works. In October 1941 the government ordered a greatly enlarged design and development facility some 7 miles further up the road at Whetstone, to open in 1943.

By April 1941 a test version of the flight engine - W1X - was assembled and run at Lutterworth just as the first of the Gloster Whittle E28/39s was completed.

Sir Frank Whittle ensured that Britain entered the Jet age when, on 15 May 1941, the Gloster-Whittle E 28/39, propelled by of his jet engines, flew successfully from Cranwell, England.

In January 1942 Ernest (later Lord) Hives a director of Rolls-Royce, visited Lutterworth following a discussion with Whittle about a possible tie-up between the two companies.

Whittle’s plan now was that Rolls-Royce would put the W2/500 into production after an initial batch of 100 W2Bs, named the Welland by Rolls-Royce.

Meanwhile much of Power Jets work was being transferred to Whetstone and its total staff had risen to over 1000.

Whittle was awarded a CBE in the 1944 New Year Honours and 6 days later, bowing to US pressure, the jet engine was made public, making Whittle a national hero. 

In October he was at last able to make several flights in a Meteor 1 powered by engines he had himself designed, W2/700s.

Most of the small band which Whittle had built up - henceforth to be known as “The Reactionaries” and to meet informally once a year for the next fifty-odd years - dispersed a few weeks later to pursue separate careers in industry.

Group of Power Jets engineers and others meet at “The Hind” in Lutterworth to form “The Reactionaries” and keep in touch with Whittle and each other.

 

Whittle, promoted to Air Commodore in 1944, remained in the RAF but retired through ill-health in 1948, the stress of fighting for his ideas having taken its toll. Shortly afterwards he received an ex-gratia payment of £100,000 and a knighthood. He settled in America in 1975 and died there in 1996, aged 89.    
 

 

Frank Whittle filed this, the first ever patent for a gas turbine to propel an aircraft directly by its exhaust gas on 16th January 1930, when age 22 and a Flying Instructor in the RAF. 

It shows the air passing through a single- stage axial-flow turbine, then a centrifugal compressor, before entering a number of radially-arranged combustion chambers and exhausting through a 2 stage axial-flow turbine on the same shaft as the compressor. Modern small gas turbines follow a similar layout. 

Once granted, the patent was published but lapsed when Whittle could not afford the renewal fee of £5.

Sir Frank was also a dedicated Englishman and exceedingly proud of his country, and never stopped talking about it. Furthermore, he had tremendous respect for the RAF, which he held in high esteem and considered to be the finest service anywhere in the world. Incidentally, he always gave credit for his success, both privately and publicly, to the training that he received at Cranwell,, both as an apprentice and as a cadet. One thing he did always regret, however, was that jet aircraft did not make a major contribution to Britain’s war effort, as he had hoped.

Whittle retired from the RAF in 1948 and was knighted by King George V in the same year. He became a consultant and technical advisor to aviation companies in the 1950’s. Later he went to work in the USA and following his marriage to an American wife he moved his home to the USA in 1976. He was awarded the Order of Merit by Her Majesty the Queen in 1986.

Lutterworth E28/39 Replica

 

 

 

Harborough Borough Council have agreed in principal to take responsibility for maintaining this in the event of the Whittle Trust ceasing. Meanwhile the Trust is continuing with its twice-yearly inspections and this time we gave it a thorough wash and brush-up for the 70th anniversary of the original’s first flight. We also had a look inside and were pleasantly impressed by the condition of the steelwork. Outside it is standing-up to the recent extremes of weather well, with just some small paint blisters, mainly on the upper surface of the port wing, which were rectified.

 

 

We hold more items that can be displayed, these can be seen by special appointment with the manager of the museum Geoff Smith (please see Contact & About page for more info)

 

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