Here’s a fun video about early American jet engine development, made in 1952 and recently found in the archives and posted on the GE blog.
The Jet Race and the Second World War is a useful source on the early days of the turbojet revolution. The concept of the jet was developed independently in Britain (by Frank Whittle) and in Germany (by Hans von Ohain.) US Army Air Corps chief of staff Henry “Hap” Arnold championed bringing this technology to the United States, promising the Brits that absolute secrecy would be maintained. GE was chosen for the US production contract, largely because of its experience with turbosuperchargers, which in turn had benefited from its work with marine and powerplant turbines. There had been a US research project on possible turbine applications in aviation, but it was focused on turboprops and ducted fans rather than pure jets. (Interestingly, Arnold chose to exclude the piston engine manufacturers from this work, being concerned about possible conflicts of interest.)
Bell Aircraft was chosen to design and build the airplane which was to be mated with the first American-built jet engine: it was called the XP-59 Airacomet, and GE’s engine (a derivative of the Whittle W2B) was called the I-A. The prototype Airacomet was delivered to the test field via steam train (with the engine being kept in constant rotation at low speed because of concerns about vibration damaging the bearings), and first flew in October 1942. The Army Air Corps ordered 80 of them, but only 30 were delivered, with the balance of the production contract being cancelled because of somewhat disappointing performance and the incipient availability of better engines and airframes.
Meanwhile, the British had proceeded with development of their first jet fighter, the Gloster Meteor, powered by Rolls Royce Welland engines. The Meteor did not see any air-to-air combat during WWII, but it was used with success against German V-1 buzz bombs (“cruise missiles,” as we would now call them) and also ground attack and airfield defense missions during the last stages of the war in Europe. It would later serve in the Korean War with the Royal Australian Air Force.
The Planes of Fame Air Museum has a P-59 Airacomet and is restoring it to flying condition.