February 2016

When you read this piece, our anniversary year will be well under way but it is worth reminding ourselves of the origins of the Society which is the oldest professional body representing the aerospace and aviation community and which exists to further the art, science and engineering of aeronautics around the world.

The story starts 50 years before the Society was founded with Sir George Cayley, often referred to as the father of aeronautics. Sir George designed his first aircraft in 1799 and, by the middle of the 19th century, he was building and flying gliders. His notebooks and papers are archived in the Society’s National Aerospace Library and many have been transformed into a digital format so they can be shared with the wider general public on the new heritage website (http://aerosocietyheritage.com/). Cayley tried three times to form an Aeronautical Society in 1816, 1837 and 1840, as he believed it would be “the greatest benefit for the progress of mechanical flight.

In 1866, people had been ascending in balloons for more than 80 years since the Montgolfier brothers first flew in France. However, ballooning had become the province of showmen, who would carry thrill-seekers aloft but a group of scientists, engineers and balloonists decided that there needed to be a more methodical scientific approach to ballooning to improve the capabilities of balloons and also to exploit this new form of travel for scientific exploration of the world and not least better to understand the atmosphere and the weather. And so the Society was born with a “resolve to increase by experiments our knowledge of Aeronautics.”

Over the course of the past 150 years aviation has come a long way, encompassing the development of powered flight, supersonic passenger travel and the exploration of space among many other innovative firsts. During this year the Society will celebrate innovative firsts but will also look forward to the next 50 years. It was fitting, therefore, that we should mark the foundation date of the Society on 12 January with a black tie event at No.4 Hamilton Place which debated the motion: ‘This House believes that there will be no need for pilots 40 years from now’.

A packed house witnessed a very lively evening of debate with strong arguments ranging on both sides (see pp 30-31). I am very grateful to our speakers who did so much to give us some insight into what the coming decades might hold for aviation in all its forms. In the end the House voted to support the motion but I have no doubt that we will return to this subject many times.

I am greatly looking forward to the many events we have planned during this year but I would particularly draw your attention to the Gala Banquet which will be held at the Guildhall and promises to be a spectacular evening featuring the eminent modern-day balloonist Per Lindstrom as our Guest Speaker.

Martin Broadhurst OBE MA CDir FIOD FRAeS