Sunday, October 25, 2015

Book Review: Turbojet History and Development 1930-1960 - Volume 1

Anthony L. Kay
Turbojet History and Development 1930-1960 - Volume 1
Wiltshire, UK: Crowood Press, 2007
Category: Aviation History

Rating: 4-Stars

Anthony Kay has made a noble attempt to capture the opening chapters to the jet engine revolution that reshaped modern aviation.  This is a huge story to attempt to tackle, and Kay's book comes as close to anyone's to taking it all in.

Volume 1 of Anthony Kay's Turbojet History focuses on the United Kingdom (Rolls-Royce) and Germany, the two co-originators of the jet engine.  A couple of points in this story are deserving of additional mention.  First, is that in the years preceding World War II, developers in the UK had a clear advantage.  Frank Whittle's conceptual design work and early rig testing should have placed British developers well ahead of the Germans in the successful development of a practical jet engine.  What happened of course, as many of us know, is that the British authorities and British industry failed to grasp the significance of Whittle's concepts.  Rather than press onward to capitalize on Whittle's early work, the small team of engineers and technicians at Power Jets struggled to secure the necessary resources to convert their ideas into a functional engine.  The fact that they succeeded at all was the product of dogged determination - not brilliant leadership on the part of British aviation authorities at the time.  In contrast, German industry, and in particular Ernst Heinkel recognized early-on the potential behind the jet engine concept and provided Hans von Ohain with all of the resources necessary to overtake the earlier British development work.

The second, most striking point was the divergent reaction between the British and German industry and government officials once the first jet engines produced by Sir Frank Whittle and Hans von Ohain had actually flown.  In the UK, government bureaucrats conspired to bring the jet engine under the full ownership and control of state-owned interests at Rolls-Royce, centralizing all future development for jet engines in the UK.  Germany, on the other hand, saw an explosion of competing design houses that attempted to replicate the early success of Hans von Ohain's jet engine, and improve upon it.  Although the first jet aircraft to fly had been produce by Heinkel, the first practical, production jet fighters would be produced by Messerschmidt, flying on engines produced by Junkers - with competing engines under development by a team at BMW.

The modern, jet-powered world of aviation that we know today owes its origins to the early jet engine developers in the UK and Germany.  Every other jet engine developer to follow would begin their journey as a student of the accomplishments and hard-won lessons of these early developers.  To this end, Anthony Kay's book offers an essential window into a chapter of aviation history that is too often neglected.

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