Sir George Cayley, 6th Baronet (December 27, 1773 – December 15, 1857)"Father of Aerodynamics" was a prolific English engineer from Brompton-by-Sawdon, near Scarborough in Yorkshire. He was a pioneer of aeronautical engineering, though he worked over a century before the development of powered flight. He served for the Whig party as Member of Parliament for Scarborough from 1832 to 1835, and helped found the Royal Polytechnic Institution (now University of Westminster), serving as its chairman for many years. He was a founding member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and was a distant cousin of the mathematician Arthur Cayley.
Learn more about Sir George Cayley's early glider designs, free from flyingmachines.org. Cayley inherited Brompton Hall and its estates on the death of his father, the 5th baronet. Captured by the optimism of the times, he engaged in a wide variety of engineering projects. Among the many things that he developed are self-righting life-boats, tension-spoke wheels, the "Universal Railway" (his term for caterpillar tractors), automatic signals for railway crossings, seat belts, small scale helicopters, and a kind of prototypical internal combustion engine fuelled by gunpowder. He also contributed in the fields of prosthetics, heat engines, electricity, theatre architecture, ballistics, optics and land reclamation.
He is mainly remembered, however, for his flying machines, including the working, piloted glider that he designed and built. The recent (2007) discovery of cartoons in Cayley's school notebooks (held in the archive of the Royal Aeronautical Society Library in London, England) reveal that even at school Cayley was developing his ideas on the theories of flight. It has been claimed that these images indicate Cayley having modelled the principles of a lift-generating inclined plane as early as 1792. To measure the drag on objects at different speeds and angles of attack, he later built a "whirling-arm apparatus" - a development of earlier work into ballistics and air resistance. He also experimented with rotating wing sections of various forms in the stairwells at Brompton Hall. These scientific experiments led him to develop an efficient cambered airfoil and to identify the four vector forces that influence an aircraft: thrust, lift, drag, and gravity. He discovered the importance of dihedral for lateral stability in flight, and deliberately set the centre of gravity of many of his models well below the wings for this reason. Investigating many other theoretical aspects of flight, many now acknowledge him as the first aeronautical engineer.
By 1804 his model gliders appeared similar to modern aircraft: a pair of large monoplane wings towards the front, with a smaller tailplane at the back comprising horizontal stabilisers and a vertical fin. During some point prior to 1849 he designed and built a triplane powered with 'flappers' in which an unknown ten-year-old boy flew. Later, with the continued assistance of his grandson George John Cayley and his resident engineer Thomas Vick, he developed a larger scale glider (also probably fitted with 'flappers') which flew across Brompton Dale in 1853. The first adult aviator has been claimed to be either Cayley's coachman, footman or butler: one source (Gibbs-Smith) has suggested that it was John Appleby, a Cayley employee - however there is no definitive evidence to fully identify the pilot. An obscure entry in volume IX of the 8th Encyclopaedia Britannica of 1855 is the most contemporaneous account with any authority regarding the event.
A replica of the machine was flown at the original site in Brompton Dale in 1974 and in the mid 1980s by Derek Piggott (right). Another replica flew there in 2003, first piloted by Allan McWhirter and later by Richard Branson.
He is one of many scientists and engineers commemorated by having a hall of residence at Loughborough University named after him.