Jet engine inventor’s son visits AFRL: Father’s legacy continues to thrive

Mr. Ian Whittle son of Sir Frank Whittle visits the Air Force Research Laboratory, Wright-Patterson, Air Force Base Ohio

From left: Mr. Charles Stevens, Turbine Engine Division Lead Engineer, Aerospace Systems Directorate, Air Force Research Laboratory; Dr. Dale Carson, Technical Advisor Propulsion, Engineering Directorate, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center; Mr. Ian Whittel; and Dr. Chuck Cross, Chief of Turbine Engine Division, Aerospace Systems Directorate, Air Force Research Laboratory, stopped for a group photo during a tour of AFRL at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, Oct. 31, 2017. Whittle is the son of the late Sir Frank Whittle who is credited for inventing the gas turbine engine effectively launching aircraft propulsion into the jet age. (U.S. Air Force photo / Lisa Donauer)

Mr. Ian Whittle son of Sir Frank Whittle visits the Air Force Research Laboratory, Wright-Patterson, Air Force Base Ohio

Dr. Dale Carlson, Technical Advisor Propulsion, Engineering Directorate, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, holds turbine blades from early stages of jet engine development during Mr. Ian Whittle’s tour of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, Oct. 31, 2017. Whittle is the son of the late Sir Frank Whittle who is credited for inventing the gas turbine engine effectively launching aircraft propulsion into the jet age. (U.S. Air Force photo / Lisa Donauer)

Mr. Ian Whittle son of Sir Frank Whittle visits the Air Force Research Laboratory, Wright-Patterson, Air Force Base Ohio

Dr. Chuck Cross, Chief of Turbine Engine Division, Aerospace Systems Directorate, Air Force Research Laboratory, compares turbine blades from early stages of jet engine development with Mr. Ian Whittle during a tour of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, Oct. 31, 2017. Whittle is the son of the late Sir Frank Whittle who is credited for inventing the gas turbine engine effectively launching aircraft propulsion into the jet age. (U.S. Air Force photo / Lisa Donauer) (U.S. Air Force photo by Lisa Donauer)

Mr. Ian Whittle son of Sir Frank Whittle visits the Air Force Research Laboratory, Wright-Patterson, Air Force Base Ohio

Dr. Chuck Cross, Chief of Turbine Engine Division, Aerospace Systems Directorate, Air Force Research Laboratory, presents a book to Mr. Ian Whittle containing an excerpt about his father, Sir Frank Whittle during a tour of AFRL at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. Oct. 31, 2017. Whittle's father is credited for inventing the gas turbine engine effectively launching aircraft propulsion into the jet age. (U.S. Air Force photo / Lisa Donauer)

Mr. Ian Whittle son of Sir Frank Whittle visits the Air Force Research Laboratory, Wright-Patterson, Air Force Base Ohio

Mr. Ian Whittle signs a photo matt during a tour of Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, Oct. 31, 2017. Whittle is the son of the late Sir Frank Whittle who is credited for inventing the gas turbine engine effectively launching aircraft propulsion into the jet age. (U.S. Air Force photo / Lisa Donauer) (U.S. Air Force photo / Lisa Donauer)

Mr. Ian Whittle son of Sir Frank Whittle visits the Air Force Research Laboratory, Wright-Patterson, Air Force Base Ohio

Mr. Fred Eisert, Air Force Research Laboratory, chief of fan and compressor experimental branch, explains his branch's mission to Mr. Ian Whittle during a tour of the branch facilities on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, Oct. 31, 2017. Whittle is the son of the late Sir Frank Whittle who is credited for inventing the gas turbine engine effectively launching aircraft propulsion into the jet age. (U.S. Air Force photo / Wesley Farnsworth)

Mr. Ian Whittle son of Sir Frank Whittle visits the Air Force Research Laboratory, Wright-Patterson, Air Force Base Ohio

Mr. Fred Eisert, Air Force Research Laboratory, chief of fan and compressor experimental branch, explains his branch's mission to Mr. Ian Whittle during a tour of the branch facilities on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, Oct. 31, 2017. Whittle is the son of the late Sir Frank Whittle who is credited for inventing the gas turbine engine effectively launching aircraft propulsion into the jet age. (U.S. Air Force photo / Wesley Farnsworth)

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – What happens when you mix a 22-year-old self-taught aeronautical engineer and Royal Air Force pilot, with a slide rule, a solid background in math, and an idea? Well, you get the birth of the jet age.

In 1928 Frank Whittle wrote a thesis entitled “Future Developments in Aircraft Design” where he proved, by calculation, that a gas turbine had the potential to be a mover for air propulsion. This early work laid the foundation for Whittle’s conclusion that the turbojet would greatly outperform the conventional piston engine for high-speed flight at very high altitudes.

Whittle’s 1928 thesis directly led to the birth of the jet age for aircraft propulsion. His work continues to be built on today in organizations throughout Wright-Patt.   

Whittle, who died in 1996, was recently inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame during its 55th Annual Enshrinement Dinner & Ceremony. Whittle’s son Ian accepted his father’s induction at the event, which was held in Fort Worth, Texas, Oct. 28.

Following that honor the younger Whittle paid a visit to the Air Force Research Laboratory Oct. 31, to learn firsthand the impact his father continues to have on technological innovation in the United States.

Col. Douglas “Scott” Martin, mobilization assistant to the AFRL commander gave Whittle a current overview of AFRL and how the organization is looking into the future with its research.

Then Dr. Dale Carlson, technical advisor for propulsion in the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Engineering Directorate, provided a detailed look at how Whittle’s father continues to impact jet engine innovation.

Carlson began his talk by thanking Whittle for his dad. “Though aircraft propulsion first began in a field behind this building [Wright Field] your dad took it to the next level,” he said. “He was seminal to the development of not only jet engines, but to systems engineering as well. For us he was the Thomas Edison of aircraft gas turbine engines.”  

Whittle’s U.S. legacy began in May 1941when Maj. Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold, chief of the U.S. Army Air Corps, paid a visit to Great Britain to see a demonstration of his engine. At the time the United States dominated the world in developing aircraft with long range capability, but was several years behind European countries in developing aircraft with performance in mind.

After seeing Whittle’s engine in action, Arnold returned to America and stood up a working group to facilitate bringing the design to the U.S.

“Your father reset the innovation S curve for propulsion,” said Carlson. “His outside the box perspectives were invaluable and changed the world forever. He started the jet age for the allies and made due with limited resources. To his credit your dad succeeded despite having war constrained resources in Great Britain.”

Carlson then when on to share how Whittle’s work remains relevant today.

“The hardest thing to do in the world is propulsion,” explained Carlson. “Your dad was a true genius in that. He was able to take disparate technologies and concepts, and put them together into something that worked. From turbo jets, to high pass turbo fans, to variable cycle engines, we’re still building on your dad’s legacy.”

“Your father spawned an unprecedented portfolio in innovative propulsion development. Today airplanes and propulsion systems are the United States’ number one technology export,” said Carlson.

“This is not a sunset industry however, and technological development continues to evolve,” said Carlson. “Your father’s legacy will live on for generations to come.”

Whittle immigrated to the United States in 1976 to work at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. He remained in the U.S until his death.