IT was a noise like no other. Locals were told to mind their own business keep their heads down and move along. One farmer’s wife thought the ‘thing’ in the sky was about to crash because it had no propeller.
It didn’t need one—the locals living close to RAF Edgehill had just witnessed the early test flights of the jet aircraft - the year was 1942.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of that remarkable test flight which helped fine tune a piece of engineering genius that has changed our lives forever.
The jet plane in question, at Edgehill, was the Gloster E28/39 which used a jet engine patented as early as 1930 by Coventry-born Frank Whittle, (knighted in 1948).
The new high speed plane had the potential to revolutionise the whole concept of air warfare. By 1942 Britain and her allies were at war with Germany. The timing couldn’t have been more critical as the Germans had already started work on their own version of a jet fighter aircraft manufactured by Messerschmitt.
A shroud of secrecy descended upon Shenington Airfield, which for operational reasons, was called RAF Edgehill during the war.
“I was walking in a lane close to the airfield with my grandad—I think I was about four or five years old,” recalls Eric Kaye, who has lived near Shenington all his life and has written a history of the airfield called The Story of RAF Edgehill. “Suddenly, these military looking types shouted us to move on and keep our heads down, they went about their business very seriously. We had no idea a jet was being tested on the runway or was about to fly above our heads but the noise it made was certainly very different to anything we’d heard before.”
The testing of the jet plane progressed at a steady and successful pace. Eventually when everyone involved with the top secret project was satisfied, the Gloster had passed its test flights with flying colours, it was flown—accompanied by two Spitfires—to RAF Hatfield in Hertfordshire. There it completed a fly-past in front of the wartime Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, who approved the plane.
A headline in the 7th January 1944 issue of the Daily Express read: ‘Britain has fighter with no propeller.’ The article described the Gloster as ‘a plane that can fly at tremendous speeds without a propeller.’
The extraordinary events that took place around RAF Edgehill during those jet testing years were commemorated recently at the airfield where enthusiasts and members of Shenington Gliding Club organised an open day to mark the 70th anniversary of the testing of the first British jet engine. The gliding club is based at the airfield.
Archive photographs, models of the Gloster jet, historical scrapbooks and an evening talk about the history of the jet helped make for special day for all - young and old alike.
The gliding club plans to unveil a commemorative stone at RAF Edgehill in May as a tribute to Sir Frank Whittle, and the bravery of all those who created something that would change our lives forever—the Jet Age.
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