15th December 1857. Genius of Flight.

In the middle of the Napoleonic Wars and one year before the Battle of Trafalgar two significant discoveries had been made in aeronautics by the brilliant Sir George Cayley (Bt) who died Today in 1857. 

The First was concerned with the concepts of the forces necessary for flight, and secondly the measurement of wing-lift without which nothing will leave the ground.(1)

Cayley discovered the four forces which acted on a heavier than air, flight- machine: weight, lift, drag and thrust. He also identified the importance of a cambered wing.

He constructed the first model aeroplane, designed a diagram of the elements of vertical flight, and the first glider capable of carrying a human aloft.

By 1853 Cayley had built the ‘New Flyer’, big enough to carry a person, and persuaded John Appleby his coachman to try it out, the lift which required the pulling of ropes by estate workers across a valley on his Brompton Estate near Scarborough, Yorks.

However according to reports, the coachman gave notice: ‘Sir George’ he said, ‘I wish to give notice I was hired to drive not to fly’.

Below can be seen Cayley’s ‘Governable Parachutes’ on the front cover of Mechanics’ Magazine.

In 1903 the the American Wright Brothers were to make the first continuous, powered flight using controls, essential on a fixed-wing aeroplane.

Later Wilbur was to acknowledge Cayley’s pioneering work in aviation, in 1909, when he said: ‘About 100 years ago in England,

Caley's Parachute.

Cayley’s Parachute.

George Cayley carried the science of flying to a point which had never been reached before and which it scarcely reached again last century’.

In 1832 Cayley organised the first meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and in 1839 helped establish the Regent Street Polytechnic in London.

It wasn’t until 1926 when notebooks were discovered at Brompton Hall, that the true nature of Cayley’s work was discovered.

Then in 2007 further notebooks at the Royal Aeronautical Society Library revealed Cayley’s obsession with the ideas of flight whilst still a schoolboy.

Memorials to Cayley include a Hall of Residence at Loughborough University which has a Department of Aeronatics.

(1)  Sir George Cayley (1773-1857) the discoverer of aerodynamics.




aerosociety.com/Journal of Aero Society Paper 2011/6. JAD Ackroyd. Paper based on Cayley Lecture at Brough. April 2000/Pic.



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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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