On this day in history, the first aircraft using jet propulsion was flown successfully over Cranwell, England. It was the first successful test of such a system by the Allies during World War II.
The science of jet propulsion is fairly interesting, but what matters most to history buffs is the difference between jet propelled aircraft and what they used before, specifically during World War I. The aircraft used during the first Great War were much more simple and less versatile than the aircraft that would be used during the Second World War.
You can tell the difference between the two types of planes just by looking at them. The World War I style planes all had a propeller somewhere on them (sometimes at the front, sometimes at the back). While the World War II style aircraft had giant engines, usually underneath the wings. Obviously, this is an oversimplification.
The jet propulsion engine was developed by an Englishman named Frank Whittle, who is often considered the father of the modern jet engine. However, we’ve discovered via some research that the first jet propelled flights actually happened in Germany over two years before the English would test their first jet, most of this can be contributed to Whittle not having the backing from the British Military.
The first jet propelled engine would be developed in 1910 by a Romanian inventor named Henri Coanda, and while the flight wasn’t successful, it was the first. Whittle had been interested in jet propulsion systems since graduating from the RAF college, and attempted to get the British Military to study and build planes using jet propulsion starting in the 1930s. However, he met with much resistance, as the establishment was too used to using the propeller driven aircraft that had been the only option during World War I.
Despite patenting the jet engine, Whittle was beaten by the Germans who flew their first jet propelled aircraft on August 27, 1939.
When World War II broke out in September of 1939, Whittle finally received the funding needed to build his first jet plane, and it had its first successful flight on May 15, 1941. It was named the Gloster-Whittle E 28/39. Because of the advantages inherent in jet propulsion technology, the Gloster-Whittle flew at around 370 miles per hour, much faster that the Spitfire, the fastest known propeller driven aircraft at the time.
It took until later in the war for jet propelled aircraft to become more popular, but when they did, they quickly became the go-to type of aircraft for the Allies and the Germans.
While armed flight was well used in World War I, World War II saw the true birth of the Air Force. The expansion by the Allies in terms of fighting power in the air is astonishing. Hundreds of thousands of aircraft were built over the course of the war by both sides, as fighting in the air and dropping bombs became much more important when it came to fighting a war. By the end of World War II, military strategy would never be the same, and because of the jet engine, neither would military aircraft.