Jones' idea that a moving body passing through air or another fluid encounters resistance (aerodynamic drag), had been known since the time of Aristotle, but he demonstrated the importance of this to the performance of aircraft.
Jones was educated at Birkenhead School and was a graduate of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. After university he worked in the Aerodynamics Department of the National Physics Laboratory and at Armstrong Whitworths where he worked on the design of airships until the outbreak of war in 1914. He was then seconded to the Royal Aircraft Establishment until 1916 when he was transferred to Orfordness, the armament experimental station established by Bertram Hopkinson who was then Head of the Engineering Department at Cambridge. Whilst there, Melvill learned to fly and served as a gunner for some weeks in a Bristol Fighter with his brother as pilot.
In March 1919 Jones returned to Cambridge as a fellow of Emmanuel College and a member of staff of the Engineering Department. In October he was elected as the first Francis Mond Professor of Aeronautical Engineering in which position he remained until his retirement.