Sir George Cayley, Local Hero

A Report on our meeting held on 26th February 2018

Our speaker Roger Stanley had a long career in the aerospace industry. This made him an ideal candidate to research Sir George Cayley who lived near Scarborough and is acknowledged internationally as the “Father of Flight”, even being praised as such by Wilbur Wright.

Sir George (1773 to 1857) was the 6th Baronet of Brompton-by-Sawdon and was a philanthropist, a family man, and an insatiable inventor. Roger pointed out that this was at a time when dabbling in mechanical matters was deemed below an aristocrat and this caused some embarrassment to his son Digby.

Sir George was born in Scarborough, went to boarding school in York, received extra tuition in mathematics and mechanics, and then took over the running of the Brompton estate at the age of 21, his father having died two years before.

Roger pointed out that we are lucky that in the 1920’s and 1960’s Sir George’s notebooks came to light. These show a lifelong interest in solving the practical problems that would lead up to manned flight.

With the aid of sketches taken from Cayley’s notes Roger showed how he experimented to quantify aerofoil lift and drag. A whirling arm powered by a weight dropping down the Brompton Hall stair well was one apparatus used.

Cayley realized that a lightweight wheel was needed and he invented the tension spoke wheel such as we have on a modern bicycle. By observing fish he realized that a streamlined shape would result in less drag and more directional stability. He used this knowledge to invent a better naval gun shell.

One Cayley sketch Roger showed was clearly a caterpillar track.  The patent described this as a “universal railway”.

Roger described how Cayley strove to develop an engine light enough and powerful enough for powered flight. He devised a gunpowder engine and developed a hot air engine, but realized that the technology of the early 1800’s was not advanced enough for powered flight. He settled instead on designing a successful man carrying glider.

He tested the glider in Brompton Dale with his groom as the pilot.  There is some evidence that the petrified groom left Cayley’s employ shortly after. An etched silver plaque showing the glider has enabled replicas to be made.

Today more than ever Sir George Cayley is revered as the “Father of Flight”. In 2003 a replica Cayley glider was once again flown at Brompton Dale, this time piloted by Sir Richard Branson.  There is a small museum at Brompton Hall celebrating Cayley’s achievements.

The Prior Bro Garry Sunley asked Bro John Gatenby to give the vote of thanks.  He thanked Roger for an entertaining evening. He mused this was a time when you could get things done without the hindrance from today’s risk averse culture.