It was a German designer, Hans von Ohain, who got the first jet-powered prototype off the ground in 1939. But it was more of a manned firework than a viable design.
At the end of next month is the 70th anniversary of the first flight of the Gloster Pioneer, the first 'proper'flight of a jet plane. Frank Whittle, a serving officer in the RAF during WWII, built the first jet plane from his own patented designs for a jet engine. The patent was issued in 1930, when von Ohain was still a schoolboy. The Third Reich was good at building roads, invading Poland and stealing ideas. Whittle never received a penny in royalties from the German designs for fighter airplanes based on his patent nor from the Americans whose dominance in aviation is based on his designs. After the war the Whittle designs were given to America by a grateful British government along with penicillin and nuclear technology.
Whittle was a remarkable man. He was certainly lauded in my childhood but he now seems almost forgotten. There are plans for enormous celebrations in London for Yuri Gagarin, there were headlines in national newspapers about the Brixton riots of 40 years ago, and there has been a Hollywood film about the creator of Facebook, but the only celebration of Whittle's achievement will be a drinks party in the Officer's Mess at Cranwell where he studied. He was later to achieve a first class honors degree at Cambridge where he completed his degree course in two years rather than the usual three and was given the highest accolade that Britain can offer, the Order of Merit,by the Queen. He died fifteen years ago.