in Aerospace / Features

Sir George Cayley's notebooks featured on Antiques Roadshow

Posted 12 November 2012 · Add Comment

On last night's Antiques Roadshow, broadcast at 8pm on BBC 1, the notebooks of 'The Father of Aeronautics' Sir George Cayley were viewed and valued by experts, providing an insight into the ideas of the country squire some call the English Leonardo.

Above: Sir George Cayley.
Copyright National Portrait Gallery

Presented by Fiona Bruce, the programme - broadcast from an old aeronautical research centre with a giant wind tunnel at Farnborough - provided a rare opportunity to see these notebooks which are normally hidden away at the nearby National Aerospace Library in Farnborough.

The Royal Aeronautical Society’s National Aerospace Library (NAL) in Farnborough is home to five notebooks which belonged to Sir George Cayley (1773 – 1857). Cayley is widely regarded as the ‘The Father of Aeronautics’ and the notebooks have been valued at approximately £25, 000 in total. He used the notebooks to record ideas and theories, and to sketch aeronautical diagrams.

On 10 May 2012, the Antiques Roadshow filmed an episode at the NAL and took the opportunity to interview Board Chairman Air Cdre Bill Tyack about the notebooks. Air Cdre Tyack presented the notebooks to Justin Croft, Books and Manuscripts Specialist, commenting: “There is an immediacy to his descriptions of observations from nature and from his experiments, while his initial sketches are clear and compelling.”

Sir George Cayley designed the first glider to be flown successfully and identified the four principles of flight still used today – weight, lift, drag and thrust. His notebooks held at the NAL are clear proof that he designed the first fixed-wing flying machine, over half a century before the Wright Brothers were credited with their contributions to powered flight.

Inspecting some of the drawings in the notebooks on the show,  Justin Croft pointed to one particular ink drawing and said: "I can see that this diagram here - which is dated 1804 is a hundred years before the Wright Bothers - I can see that is a prototype airplane."

Justin Croft concluded by saying:  "I can easily see these making thirty or forty thousand pounds."

The Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) -  the world’s only professional body dedicated to the entire aerospace community - does not intend to sell them and will continue to keep them safely in the NAL.

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