The masses may think that the Wright Brothers started aviation but aviation was started long before them. Aviation was started by Sir George Cayley who was sometimes known as the “Father of Aerodynamics”. He was a pioneer in aeronautical engineering. His work took him over half a century to complete the development of powered flight.
To add to his success he was a member of parliament for the Whig party for Scarborough, London and helped form the Royal Polytechnic Institution, which is now the University of Westminster, where he served as chairman for many years. He was also a founding member of the British association for the Advancement of Science. Sir Cayley was a distant cousin to the mathematician Arthur Cayley. To find out more about his great man we have to visit the past into the life of Sir George Cayley.
Sir George Arthur Cayley was born on December 27th, 1773, in Richmond, London, England. His father was Henry Cayley and his mother was Maria Antonia Doughty. When he was a child Arthur enjoyed solving complex math problems which no doubt paved the way for his success in life. When he was old enough to go to college he excelled in mathematics, Greek, German, French and Italian. After college he worked as a lawyer for 14 years. Later in life, he was the first to define the concepts of “groups”, in a modern mathematical way.
When Arthur’s father died, he inherited Brompton Hall estates. He started to engage in a wide variety of engineering projects. He developed the self righting lifeboat, the tension-spoke wheels (Caterpillar tractors), the automatic signals for railway crossings, seat belts, helicopters on a small scale and an internal combustion engine. He did not stop there he also aided in the invention of prosthetics, air engines, electricity, theatre architecture, ballistics, optics and land reclamation.
Regardless of all these wonderful achievements Arthur is remembered mostly for his pioneering and experimentation in aeronautics. He designed and built a piloted glider. He was author of a 3 part thesis which was called “On Aerial Navigation”. This took place between 1809 and 1810. There has been a discovery of some of his school notes, which are held in the Royal Aeronautical Society Library in London. Some of these notes reveal that even as a school boy, he was developing theories of flight. Some believe that this was as early as 1792.
In order to measure the drag on objects at different speeds Arthur built a “whirling-arm apparatus”. There is evidence that he experimented with rotating wing sections. This eventually led him to develop a chambered airfoil, along with identifying four vector forces, which influences thrust, drag, lift and gravity of an aircraft. He also discovered how important the lateral stability in flight was; this led him to set the level of gravity under the wings for this very reason. Arthur finally got the acknowledgement of being the first aeronautical engineer.
It wasn’t until 1804 that Arthur’s models appeared similar to what we know today, before 1849 he would design and build a triplane, which was powered with flappers, which a boy that is unknown actually flew in it. Later he would design and build a larger model that flew across Brompton Dale in 1853. He did this with the help of his grandson George John Cayley and his engineer Thomas Vick. There is no concrete proof of who the pilot was but it did fly.
Replicas of the plane were flown over Brompton Dale in 1974 and again in 1980. Another flew over the same place in 2003. There are many things that made this man great and it shows today. He was the first to be commemorated by having a hall of residency and bar at Laoughborough University which is named after him. The contributions to the world of aeronautics are something that has and will continue to go down in history. The ideas this man brought to us in the past are still being used today.