70th Anniversary of jet engine flight commemorated at RAF Cranwell

Commemorations to mark the 70th anniversary of the first flight of Sir Frank Whittle’s jet engine at Royal Air Force (RAF) Cranwell are to be held at the air base over the weekend of 14-15 May.

Exactly 70 years ago, on 15 May 1941, the Gloster E28/39 aircraft powered by Sir Frank’s jet engine taxied over 500 yards down the runway before taking off for a flight that lasted almost 17 minutes – an event that is said to have ‘shrunk the world’.

Organised by the Defence College of Aeronautical Engineering (DCAE) and sponsored by Aviation Heritage Lincolnshire supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the event will see the attendance of a wide range of guests including Sir Frank’s son Ian Whittle, himself a retired airline pilot. Also attending will be Mr Sidney Dix, an employee of Gloster who was present at Cranwell on the 15 May 1941 as well as guest from the aerospace industry and academia.

School children from William Farr School who have written a book about Sir Frank Whittle have also been invited. Weather and aircraft serviceability permitting the event on 15 May will conclude with a flypast of a Gloster Meteor.

Sir Frank began his RAF career as an apprentice and later trained as an RAF officer at RAF Cranwell. He was knighted by King George VI in 1948 when he retired from the RAF in the rank of Air Commodore. He emigrated to the USA in 1976 and died at his home in Columbia, Maryland in August 1996.

In September 1998 Sir Frank’s ashes were flown in to RAF Cranwell in a 1952 Meteor jet powered by two Derwent engines which were based on his earliest design success. His remains were accompanied by Ian Whittle who had long expressed a desire for them to be interred in the memorial chapel of St Michael’s and All Angels’ Church.

On Saturday 14 May a programme of activities has been organised at RAF Cranwell aimed at inspiring local secondary school children to look at careers in the fields of engineering and aviation. The day will start with presentations at College Hall, the home of RAF officer training, after which the school children will have the opportunity to visit exhibits and discuss with historians, engineers and technicians involved in the first flight or subsequently in the development of the jet powered flight.

RAF UK MoD press release