DVD Review: Whittle: The Jet Pioneer

We do take things for granted since they’ve always been a part of our lives. But there was a time before cellphones, shoelaces and Betty White. What did it take to make these revolutionary developments become normal? Whittle: The Jet Pioneer explores the science and the struggles of making airplanes fly without propellers. Few things push technology faster than an impending war which is what it took for Frank Whittle’s invention to get noticed instead of being written off as science fiction. His is not a story of easy acceptance.

Whittle was a member of Royal Air Force who wasn’t just content to be a flyboy. He had a vision for making a jet propelled airplane. He also had the skills to make it happen instead of merely conceptualizing. Unfortunately, few had faith in his creation. The documentary covers his struggles against the government and private businesses to get the idea to take flight. The British government didn’t even hide Whittle’s original patents as a state secret. They were made public which allowed the Nazis to pick up the original designs without any cloak and dagger espionage. They just bought copies of the patents and took them back to Berlin. Basically, the Brits gave the Nazis their start in jet propulsion. Luckily Whittle kept working on his design so the Nazis didn’t top his original engines. Even with the knowledge that the Nazis wanted jet power, Whittle’s project wasn’t given the proper level of respect until his prototype’s wheels left the runway in 1937. Instead of respect, the aviation pioneer was still getting yanked around. The same people who thought his invention was foolish were now fighting over the technology. Because of the war effort, he had to share his patents with rivals. After the war, his government funded Power Jets company was shut down thanks to the efforts of rival corporations. He should have been a billionaire like the folks who created Instagram. Instead he worked for various companies and taught at the US Naval Academy. He did get recognition for his contribution to mankind. Queen Elizabeth II knighted him to be Sir Frank Whittle. But he was never able to recapture his ability to create an empire in the air.

The documentary uses footage from an extensive interview with Whittle recorded before his death in 1996. He’s very captivating as he recounts his career and struggles. Even when he testifies to being screwed by various companies, he doesn’t come across as bitter. There’s plenty of vintage footage to show the the tests from both Whittle and the Nazis. The most interesting vault discovery is a short film that recreates Whittle’s invention in the post war era. Whittle: The Jet Pioneer successfully explains how jet engines work and shines a little on its inventor. You truly understand the man and his machine by the time it ends.

The video is 1.78 anamorphic. The transfer quality varies with the source of the vintage footage. There’s a mix of film and video in the project. The audio is Dolby Digital stereo. They don’t get too wild with the sound mix or score. You can hear what Whittle and other folks are saying.

Airside at Gatwick (7:24) is b-roll of jumbo jets on the tarmac.

A Tribute by Ian Whittle – Westminster Abbey (5:32) is video from Whittle’s funeral. His son shares memories of the various facets of his father.

Interrogating The Nazis by Eric Brown (4:03) is his time with Hermann Göring and Heinrich Himmler. Brown was impressed that Göring didn’t pass the blame on other Nazis.

Brockworth – The First Flight? (3:13) explores how Whittle tested a plane with a jet engine made of spare parts for taxiing experiments.

Centrifugal – The Reason Why (2:38) has Whittle explain the blades of the engine.

So How Does a Jet Engine Work? (0:52) appears to be from a military film explaining Whittle’s creation.

Whittle: The Jet Pioneer is revelatory as it show how many issues Whittle had trying to create the jet engine. The Nazis had more respect for his breakthroughs than the British government.

Shelter Island presents Whittle: The Jet Pioneer. Written and Directed by: Nicholas Jones. Running Time: 71 minutes. Released: October 2, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.

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