This display shows one of the earliest examples of a gas turbine (turbojet) engine. Designed in England by Sir Frank Whittle, the engine utilizes a centrifugal type compressor to drive air into a combustion chamber. This air, combined with fuel (usually kerosene) burned continuously, and at a constant pressure, to drive a turbine. All the energy was used to propel the engine by direct reaction (less turbine return), with the hot gases being accelerated through profiled nozzles. This early generational type of engine is commonly known as a Turbo-Jet.
Engineers in Germany and Britain's Frank Whittle had, quite independently, worked on developing the turbojet concept in the mid 1930s. In 1941, GE received its first contract from the U.S. Army Air Corps to build a gas turbine engine based on the British design. In mid-April 1942 the GE engineers were able to successfully run the GE engineered I-A Whittle engine.
In October, 1942, at Muroc Dry Lake, California, two I-A engines powered the historic first of a Bell XP-59A Airacomet aircraft, launching the United States into the “Jet Age”. The thrust rating of the I-A was 1,250 pounds (the thrust rating of today's Boeing 777-fitted GE90-115B is more than 90 times as great at 115,000 pounds). America's first XP-59A, AAF serial number 42-108784, is preserved at the National Air and Space Museum.
The engine on display is perhaps one of only 12 GE-built Whittle Engines still in existence today.