Whittle Laboratory Event

The Cambridge University Whittle Laboratory

Presentation of a Royal Aeronautical Society Heritage Plaque

The Cambridge University Whittle Laboratory on the West Cambridge site was launched 50 years ago in 1969, and over those years has become internationally recognised as the centre of excellence in aero-engine and turbo-machinery research, design tools and education.

When we all fly off on our holidays or business trips in modern airliners, we give little thought to the efforts and the technologies which have gone into making today’s low cost travel possible. Developments in jet engines have been one of the greatest contributors to this.

The first patent for a jet engine was filed by Frank Whittle in 1930, and his first practical engine operated in 1937, just over 80 years ago. It has taken huge, sustained effort to develop those early concepts from purely military uses into the super efficient machines which power today’s aircraft.

Frank Whittle was a student in Cambridge University from 1934 to 1937, and the Whittle Laboratory commemorates his pioneering work through its name. However the individuals and teams which have further progressed jet engine technology in the University’s Whittle Laboratory have now been recognised through granting of a rare Heritage Award by the Royal Aeronautical Society. Over the 50 years since the founding of the lab, those people have made innumerable, vital contributions to the technology of jet engines, or more accurately of turbo-machinery, which includes other products such as electrical power generators, gas turbines for oil and gas pumping, and even domestic items from vacuum cleaners to hair dryers.

The Royal Aeronautical Society is the world’s only professional body dedicated to the aerospace community, seeking to promote the highest professional standards and provide a central forum for sharing knowledge. The Society’s Aeronautical Heritage Award scheme was established to recognise significant contributions made to “the art and science of aeronautics”. Including the award made this month to the Whittle lab, 22 plaques in total have been awarded – 3 of which are now in Cambridge (commemorating Norman De Bruyne, the founder of aerospace composites, and Sir Arthur Marshall, the power behind the growth of Marshall Aerospace)

The event to hand over the Plaque took place at the Laboratory on the West Cambridge site on January 23rd. The Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire, Professor John Wallwork, did a great job introducing all the speakers and had some very interesting stories about flying in a 2-seater Jaguar fighter. The CEO of the Royal Aeronautical Society, Sir Brian Burridge, gave an excellent description of the Society, past, present and future. The importance and achievements of the Whittle Laboratory were highlighted by Professor Richard Prager, CUED Head of Department. Finally Professor Rob Miller, the

Director of the laboratory, gave a rousing description of the Lab and how its staff and its ethos had helped it to stay at the cutting edge of turbo machinery research, and increasingly in the implementation of this ground breaking research into practical applications. It was interesting to hear that the Whittle is drawing in ever increasing numbers of post graduate students and researchers to study and contribute to the Laboratory’s reputation.

The audience included many dignitaries from the Aerospace Industry, the Royal Aeronautical Society, and the University, and it was particularly wonderful to see that Sir Frank Whittle's son, Ian, was also present and enjoying the occasion.

The presentations were followed by tours of the Lab, led by members of the Laboratory’s staff and students, which gave a fascinating glimpse into the wide range of work being conducted at the Laboratory.