First Engine to Test (FETT) is a major milestone on every engine program. So, imagine the anxiety and excitement when GE’s (and America’s) first jet engine began formal testing 77 years ago in Lynn, Mass.
The GE team ran its first engine within seven months of the US Government’s decision to build a jet engine and a short six months after the first set of drawings was received. The I-A FETT is not only a story of technical innovation and engineering skill, but also a story of international collaboration and a cloak of secrecy.
In April 1941, General “Hap” Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Force, witnessed a short flight of the secret British W.1 jet engine-powered aircraft and recognized the importance of this technical advance. Upon his return to the US, General Arnold initiated efforts to enable US development of a jet aircraft. He energized the Air Staff in Washington, DC, and the Engineering Division at Wright Field as well as the State Department, resulting in negotiations between the Secretary of State and the British Ambassador to the US to facilitate sharing the classified information on jet engine and aircraft technology.
In Sept. 1941, GE was informed it had been selected to build 15 engines based on the Whittle design to power three aircraft to be designed by Bell. GE got the nod because of the extensive research and development capabilities in superturbochargers. Established engine companies were overlooked because they might possibly be opposed to development of “such an unorthodox form of propulsion.”