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The birth of turbojets in Britain


Written by Sakhal

The history of turbojet fighters was started by a young cadet, who studied in the the Royal Air Force College in Cranwell for obtaining a pilot's license and becoming an officer. During the fourth year in the academy, Whittle wrote an essay titled Future Developments in the Design of Aircraft, in which he mentioned diverse possibilities of employing rockets or turbines for rotating the propellers of an aircraft, albeit not the possibility of propelling an aircraft by a mere flow of hot air produced by a gas turbine. About one year and half after having entered the Royal Air Force, Whittle had discovered, after patient research, a patent granted in 1917 that illustrated a method for aircraft propulsion by means of a jet engine. The limitations of the proposal were evident: the patent provided as source of energy a piston engine, that should rotate a propeller installed inside the fuselage in the fore part, while in the rear part an afterburner would help to increase the thrust of the engine. Considering this principle as not satisfactory, Whittle thought in replacing the piston engine by a turbine. However, his proposal was refused by the Air Ministry; in the response the technicians affirmed that the idea was not realizable because the materials that would be needed simply did not exist. Still, Whittle did not give up and the 16th January 1930 he forwarded a patent request regarding the creation of a turbojet engine for aircraft. Not being the Air Ministry officially interested in the matter, the patent, once granted circa 18 months later, was published, being lost so the secret of the investigations.

The principle of the ducted propeller moved by a piston engine would be definitely discredited by the experiments carried in Italy, namely the aircraft Caproni Campini N.1, which flew for the first time the 27th August 1940, fulfilling 10 minutes of flight. Later it would be very announced its flight between Milan and Guidonia, with scale in Pisa. The fuselage of this particular aircraft was tubular, open for both ends, admitting air through the fore opening and exhausting gases through the rear opening, as any jet engine. Inside, the N.1 had a Isotta-Fraschini piston engine with a power of about 900 HP attached to a three-phase variable pitch propeller, which compressed the air aspirated through the air intake sending it to the rear part, where a circular burner fed with fuel increased the thrust generated by the piston engine. The projectist, Secondo Campini, had been working in the field of jet propulsion during eight years; however the performance of his aircraft was disappointing. The N.1 was slower than a conventional piston-engine fighter, even when its burner operated - and this one consumed high amounts of fuel - for which reason this project was refused by the authorities and eventually abandoned.

The birth of turbojets in Britain

The Caproni Campini N.1. Wingspan: 15.33 meters; length: 13.07 meters; weight: 4180 kilograms; maximum speed: 375 kilometers/hour at 3000 meters of altitude.

The start of the Second World War induced the British Air Ministry to order to the aeronautical industry a single-seater fighter propelled by a turbojet engine. Previously, the Ministry had stipulated a contract with the company Power Jets, directed by Frank Whittle, for the construction of a turbojet engine. The negotiations were started in March 1938 and the contract was finally signed the 7th July 1939. The contract for the aircraft, signed with Gloster Aircraft the 3rd February 1940, provided the preparation of an interceptor, whose maximum speed should be about 610 kilometers/hour, being armed with four machine guns. The prime purpose of the prototype should be to study the behaviour of the turbojet engine during flight, and also the disposition for combat. The first turbojet engine, still not intended for flight, was installed in the aircraft E 28/39 the 6th April 1941. The next day, Lieutenant Phillip Edward Gerald Sayer started with it taxiing tests at Brockworth. Gently accelerating and decelerating, Sayer managed to get the aircraft briefly off the ground three times. The machine seemed ready for flight.

The first prototype was transferred to the airfield in Cranwell, the town where Whittle had spent years as cadet of the Royal Air Force College during his youth; sentimentalisms apart, Cranwell was chosen due to its long runway and because this airfield was very adequate for tests. The 14th May Sayer repeated the taxiing test, intending to effectuate the first flight during the next morning. But that morning the sky was cloudy and only in the evening it started to get clear. The E 28/39, painted in a camouflage scheme, was directed towards the runway. As the scream of the engine increased in sharpness, the aircraft started moving along the runway, successfully taking off for the first flight - the first flight of a British turbojet - that lasted 17 minutes. Official support did not lack and the trials program was intensified to know more about the new propulsion system. Gradually, but in less than 10 hours of flight, the aircraft was brought to an altitude of 7500 meters and a speed of 480 kilometers/hour. Soon the Rolls Royce took on the task of perfectioning the engine, increasing the thrust up to 635 kilograms. Thanks to that, the aircraft reached a speed of 750 kilometers/hour and an altitude of 12600 meters. The Gloster Aircraft completed its part relative to the aircraft towards June 1943, passing the E 28/39 to the aeronautical facilities of the Royal Air Force in Farnborough. From these first experimentations with the Whittle engine would be born in no time the first true British turbojet fighters, the Gloster Meteor and the de Havilland Vampire.

The birth of turbojets in Britain

Turbojet engine Whittle W1: dual centrifugal compressor, 10 combustion chambers operating by flow inversion, communicating. Fuel: paraffin with atomized comburent. Specific consumption: 0.25 kilograms of fuel per kilogram of thrust each hour. Prestations: static thrust of 385 kilograms at 16500 revolutions per minute. Weight to thrust ratio: 1:0.66.

The birth of turbojets in Britain

The Gloster E 28/39, propelled by a Whittle W1 engine with a thrust of 385 kilograms. Wingspan: 8.83 meters; length: 7.71 meters; weight: 1559 kilograms; maximum speed: 547 kilometers/hour.

The birth of turbojets in Britain

A historic photography: a de Havilland Vampire T-11, last version of this aircraft in the RAF, flies together with a Gloster Meteor T-7 in May 1973.

Categories: Aviation - World War Two - 20th Century - [General] - [General]

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Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2014-11-06


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