AS an eight-year-old Nicholas Jones read in his Ladybird Book of Aircraft how an Englishman, Sir Frank Whittle, invented the jet engine. He never imagined though that 20 years later, by then a TV producer, he would spend two days filming Sir Frank in person, telling the story of how he took jet aviation from an idea to reality.
It’s 90 years since Sir Frank first began work on the concept of a jet engine.
To mark this anniversary, Mr Jones is releasing the DVD of his documentary, Whittle – The Jet Pioneer, which he originally made for the History Channel.
The core of the film is Nicholas’ interview with Sir Frank, but it also saw him following in Sir Frank’s footsteps – filming in Leamington, Coventry and Rugby where his dream became a reality.
Mr Jones said: “Leamington is the crucible of modern flight.
“It was here that Sir Frank studied at Leamington College. We filmed in the former college, and also the old library. For it’s there the jet engine began. The teenage Frank buried himself in library books about early gas turbines – the key to jet travel.
“We also filmed in Coventry, at the modest terraced house in Newcombe Road in Earlsdon where he was born. It’s strange that while a railway ran past the house in an age when every boy wanted to grow up to be a train driver, Sir Frank had no interest in trains. Aircraft were always his interest.
“We also filmed at the former BTH plant in Rugby, where Sir Frank first tested his jet engine, and at Brownsover Hall where his office was, and at the railways station, where people would come up from London to see the jet engine.”
Sir Frank’s pioneer jet aircraft, the Gloster E28/39, first flew at Cranwell, on May 15 1941. Archive shows this flight in the documentary, supported by Sir Frank’s recall of this momentous event – and also by that of a chance witness, test pilot Eric “Winkle” Brown.
Before making the documentary Mr Jones had got to know Sir Frank while working on a book about the jet engine.
He told The Observer: “He was modest and easy to get on with – but very sharp, intellectually. You had to know your stuff when talking to Sir Frank.
“I think he was sure about his legacy. He said to me that when he met Hans von Ohain, a German jet engineer, after the war, Ohain said: ‘if your government had backed you sooner and given the RAF jet planes in 1940, there would have been no Battle of Britain.”
Whittle – The Jet Pioneer is available as a DVD, with extras, from Quanta Films, for £15.99 plus £1.99 postage. To order, call
Nicholas Jones at Quanta on 07435 973397 or 01666 826366.