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Duration 10:05

Wing to Wing

The development of the ‘jet propulsion gas-turbine’, otherwise known as the jet engine, transformed flying in the post-war era. This was both in military and commercial terms.

Covering the story from the 1920s, The Wonder Jet follows Air Commodore Sir Frank Whittle. Sir Frank plays himself in the film. It moves from his days as a young Royal Air Force (RAF) cadet struggling against all obstacles to realise his dream of the jet engine. Whittle did not produce the world’s first jet plane. This honour goes to German Hans von Ohain with the Heinkel He 178 on 27 August 1939. However, Whittle greatly contributed to the advancement of the jet engine, an invention that has proved vital to the modern age.

Whittle’s first engine, the Power Jet W.1, was fitted to the British aircraft Gloster Meteor G.40. The first test flight took place on 15 May 1941, although, it did not become operational until 1944.

After the Second World War the jet engine gradually replaced the propeller in squadron after squadron of the RAF. The Canberra, Britain’s first jet bomber, entered service in 1951. This was the same year as the public information film Wing to Wing, showcased the RAF’s worldwide commitments and new jet aircraft.


Main Commentator: Strength in the air today decides the fate of nations. Air power must be ours where the cause of peace dictates, in the sky, over Hong Kong, over the sands of the Middle East. Only a little while ago air power helped keep the peace of Europe by bringing salvation to Berlin.

And now across the world to Asia, where those who fight terrorists in Malaya must be supplied by air. History comes roaring closer, with the Australian Meteors at work for the United Nations, over Korea.

The nerve centre of the R.A.F. is in London in the Air Ministry in Whitehall, where the Air Council meets to say when – and where – and how. The Secretary of State for Air, the Chief of the Air Staff and other members of the Air Council meet to decide policy.

Britain’s survival lies in the sea lanes and the traffic that flows along them. Today war has spread to the third dimension, and command of the sea entails command of the air above it. Coastal Command must scan the skies and search the seas. Their eyes reach further than ever in history. We now have the Shackleton Long Range Reconnaissance Aircraft flying further and staying aloft longer than any of her predecessors. Fighter Command now armed with something keener and swifter and more deadly to its foes than anything the last war ever saw. Speed is vital. Jets mean speed that takes a man and his machine nine miles in every minute – and more to come. That means new techniques on the ground too – new methods of control, new operations, new radar eyes.

R.A.F Officer: “Operations”. “Tiger and oxo squadrons – scramble”.

Main Commentator: And more, new standards of human skill, the mass take-off that launches a squadron of Jets almost simultaneously into the air, from a crowded howling runway, like angry falcons.

The Meteor is faster than the Spitfire but the progress of development is also fast: the Meteor is to be replaced by new fighters such as the Swift and the P. 1067 – the fastest fighter flying today. Among the bombers Anglo-American co-operation is very close. After the war Britain decided to jump production straight from the Lincolns and the Lancasters to the Jets. Meanwhile, to ensure a striking force at all times the R.A.F. man these Washingtons, as we call the Super Fortresses. We have also provided bases for the United States Air Force, who operate such enormous airborne monsters as the B-36, most gigantic of bombers, a ten-engined battleship – six piston engines and four jets. And now the Jet Bombers of the R.A.F. are coming along. The Canberra is coming into squadron service – a sleek thing more beautiful to the eye than to the ear; which can fly twice as fast as the Lincoln and twice as high. The R.A.F’s tremendously powerful weapon-to-come is the Valient, the new four jet bomber, a magnificent example of British engineering.

In this disintegrated world we have, at last, found an integrated will for peace. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation means an interlocking efficiency new to the history of this contending world. Now the mechanics of European defence are welded, under General Eisenhower and his Air Chief, Air Chief Marshall Saunders, who has the task of co-ordinating the growing efforts of all our neighbour lands to build their air strength. So the air, which covers without frontier or discrimination the surface of our Europe, becomes the Junction of our co-operative effort. The Vampires fly over Holland; the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ignores the land frontiers so that each may be inviolate.

Those who live below, anchored to the anxious ground, watch the passage of the thing that means security to them and to us, and maybe to the world.

Our contribution is ourselves, and our brothers of the Commonwealth – the Canadians, the Australians, the New Zealanders, the South Africans – a glorious brotherhood of the air, the common element which is shared by all who breathe it, and share a love of freedom. Freedom to be maintained by such roaring things as these. Together, always together. Those who share the common sky of freedom – must protect, it, together.