A tale about the Harborough district's jet pioneer

Sir Frank Whittle
Sir Frank Whittle

As an eight year old Nicholas Jones read in his Ladybird Book of Aircraft how an Englishman, Sir Frank Whittle, invented the jet engine.

Nicholas never imagined that twenty years later, by then a TV producer, he would spend two days actually filming Sir Frank in person, telling the incredible story of how he took jet aviation from an idea to reality.

One of Whittle's engines

One of Whittle's engines

This spring, it is 90 years since Whittle first began work on the concept of a jet engine. To mark this anniversary, Nicholas is releasing the DVD version of his 71 minute film documentary, Whittle – The Jet Pioneer.

The core of this film, which Nicholas first made for the History Channel, is his interview with Whittle. But it contains much else besides, including sequences filmed at Lutterworth.

Nicholas said: “It’s amazing this small town is the crucible of jet aviation. Hence we had to film at the old Ladywood Works in Lutterworth, for it’s there Whittle turned his basic pioneer jet engine into the model for all today’s airliners”, says Nicholas.

“We filmed Sir Frank’s old office at Ladywood. To ease the stress, he sometimes tried to pot rabbits with his RAF revolver. Today, he’d hit the M1.”

Other locations include Leamington Spa, and Rugby where Whittle built and tested the first jet engine in 1937.

The pioneer Whittle jet aircraft, the Gloster E28/39, first flew at Cranwell, on May 15, 1941. Archive footage shows this fight in Mr Jones’ documentary, supported by Sir Frank’s recall of this momentous event - and also by that of a witness, test pilot Eric “Winkle” Brown.

Mr Jones had got to know Sir Frank through working on a book about the jet engine. Before filming him, Nicholas took him out to dinner.

“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 not only changed the face of the Earth. He enabled us to see what it actually looks like, each time we fly.”

Mr Jones hopes Sir Frank’s story will live on via his film Whittle - The Jet Pioneer.

It’s for sale now as a DVD with extras from Quanta Films, for £15.99 plus £1.99 postage. To order a copy, please call Nicholas Jones at Quanta on 07435 973397 or 01666 826366.