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Part 4

With designs now spreading to a larger section of the aircraft industry and even over to the USA, it was during a demonstration of the flying E.28/39 to Winston Churchill in 1943, that Whittle first proposed that the whole jet engine industry should be nationalised. It was the only way he hoped to salvage the right financial rewards for his company. As with most things involving bureaucracy, Whittle realised he would probably have to wait a while for any decision.

By 1944, the latest version of the Meteor took flight with Whittles W.2 engine manufactured by Rolls-Royce. Early instability inherent in early jet aircraft designs and unreliable control surfaces subject to unknown pressures by these fast performance aircraft led to a host of crashes and heavy loss of life. It was a sad indication that in the time before ejection seats, brave airmen and test pilots often put their lives on the line for the sake of rapid advancement in technology. Both major engine and airframe developments were happening on an almost weekly basis.

Many separate companies were now openly copying the jet turbine work pioneered by Power Jets and government contracts were being awarded with no royalty being paid to them.

In the end, when Nationalisation came, all other companies were left independent and the government decided to take over Power Jets alone for the sum of £135,000. In return, Whittle, having offered to surrender all his shares in order to promote the larger deal - received nothing. Perhaps as a compromise, Whittle was awarded the CBE in the New Years Honours of 1944 and a personal award of just £10,000. It was an experience that greatly upset Whittle and put him through a bout of severe depression taking six months off with nervous exhaustion.

With a changed role as Chief Technical Advisor to the Ministry, in 1946 and with some disgust, Whittle finally resigned from Power Jets along with 16 other employees.

We will cover Whittle’s later life and his country's greater recognition as the father of Jet engine technology in the final chapter of our story in a few weeks.

With new jet engines, the post war era would see a boom in aircraft specifications, needing radical innovations to keep pace with what would become an arms race between nations now that the first Atomic bombs had been dropped.

Britain’s Ministry of Supply led with a specification that would set the standards needed for aircraft to carry our own potential atomic weapons. They would need to fly higher and faster than ever before, all while carrying a massive payload far in excess of what the RAF could offer with the latest Avro Lincolns.

This led to specification B.35/46 for an all new jet-powered aircraft, capable of carrying a 10,000lb bomb over 3,350 miles at a ceiling of 50,000 feet and a speed in excess of 500mph.

With the design of the Blue Danube Atomic bomb now finalised, in 1947, the Ministry were able to refine and increase the specification, when seven manufacturers were finally selected to put forward proposals. These were: Avro, Armstrong Whitworth, Bristol, English Electric, Handley Page, Short Brothers and Vickers.

The Bristol Aeroplane Company was one of the first and most important British aviation companies having been founded in 1910. Their products included the famous ‘Boxkite’, the Bristol Fighter, Bulldog, Bleinheim, Beaufighter and Britannia. As part of the group, they owned Bristol Aero Engines, one of the largest manufacturers of piston engines in the world.

The parent company proposal for the new aircraft specification would include a radical new jet turbine, one which featured twin spools - one axial compressor used for low pressure and one high pressure centrifugal compressor, each driven by its own single stage turbine. This was designated the B.E.10 (Bristol Engine) Two spool designs they had found, could handle the compression better in stages, enabling the engine to accelerate faster and reduced any tendency to surge, which had still been a problem in the single spool designs of the time.

This concept was then further improved when both spools became two axial compressors in order to meet the reduced diameters allowed to house the engines within the specification. Thus, the Bristol BO1.1 was born, (Bristol Olympus) a design that would deliver the proposed performance of some 9,000-12,000lbs of thrust. (To this day, we can find no reference why Olympus was designated, but it certainly would seem to have been a good decision). This design, is still the way most jet engines are built today - a remarkable testament to the original concept, skill and talent of these early designers.

With Bristol losing out on the tender for what was to become one of the V-force aircraft, they decided to concentrate their engine division into satisfying the needs of Avro for their approved proposal and a collaboration would now commence to take forward our story to the first Vulcan prototypes.

Someone of vast experience was needed to head the development team, not only to solve problems within existing piston engines by trying to extract maximum performance, but in the blossoming field of turbine technology. The whole company stood to lose significant business if they were unable to compete. The days of pistons and propellers were truely numbered.

Looking at Rolls-Royce aero division, a gentleman by the name of Stanley Hooker shone out above all others. An approach was made and in January 1949, Hooker moved to Bristol, becoming Chief Engineer (Engine Division) by the middle of 1950.

 

Next week, Olympus developments continue and the first Vulcan prototypes take to the air.... while Rolls Royce develop their own series of engines. Then, another round of nationalisations and production problems cause certain paths to align again......

 

Vulcan is a registered trademark of BAE Systems plc. Vulcan to the Sky and XH558 are trademarks of the Vulcan to the Sky Trust.

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