Cayley, Sir George

SUBJECT AREA: Aerospace
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b. 27 December 1773 Scarborough, England
d. 15 December 1857 Brompton Hall, Yorkshire, England
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English pioneer who laid down the basic principles of the aeroplane in 1799 and built a manned glider in 1853.
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Cayley was born into a well-to-do Yorkshire family living at Brompton Hall. He was encouraged to study mathematics, navigation and mechanics, particularly by his mother. In 1792 he succeeded to the baronetcy and took over the daunting task of revitalizing the run-down family estate.
The first aeronautical device made by Cayley was a copy of the toy helicopter invented by the Frenchmen Launoy and Bienvenu in 1784. Cayley's version, made in 1796, convinced him that a machine could "rise in the air by mechanical means", as he later wrote. He studied the aerodynamics of flight and broke away from the unsuccessful ornithopters of his predecessors. In 1799 he scratched two sketches on a silver disc: one side of the disc showed the aerodynamic force on a wing resolved into lift and drag, and on the other side he illustrated his idea for a fixed-wing aeroplane; this disc is preserved in the Science Museum in London. In 1804 he tested a small wing on the end of a whirling arm to measure its lifting power. This led to the world's first model glider, which consisted of a simple kite (the wing) mounted on a pole with an adjustable cruciform tail. A full-size glider followed in 1809 and this flew successfully unmanned. By 1809 Cayley had also investigated the lifting properties of cambered wings and produced a low-drag aerofoil section. His aim was to produce a powered aeroplane, but no suitable engines were available. Steam-engines were too heavy, but he experimented with a gunpowder motor and invented the hot-air engine in 1807. He published details of some of his aeronautical researches in 1809–10 and in 1816 he wrote a paper on airships. Then for a period of some twenty-five years he was so busy with other activities that he largely neglected his aeronautical researches. It was not until 1843, at the age of 70, that he really had time to pursue his quest for flight. The Mechanics' Magazine of 8 April 1843 published drawings of "Sir George Cayley's Aerial Carriage", which consisted of a helicopter design with four circular lifting rotors—which could be adjusted to become wings—and two pusher propellers. In 1849 he built a full-size triplane glider which lifted a boy off the ground for a brief hop. Then in 1852 he proposed a monoplane glider which could be launched from a balloon. Late in 1853 Cayley built his "new flyer", another monoplane glider, which carried his coachman as a reluctant passenger across a dale at Brompton, Cayley became involved in public affairs and was MP for Scarborough in 1832. He also took a leading part in local scientific activities and was co-founder of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1831 and of the Regent Street Polytechnic Institution in 1838.
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Bibliography
Cayley wrote a number of articles and papers, the most significant being "On aerial navigation", Nicholson's Journal of Natural Philosophy (November 1809—March 1810) (published in three numbers); and two further papers with the same title in Philosophical Magazine (1816 and 1817) (both describe semi-rigid airships).
Further Reading
L.Pritchard, 1961, Sir George Cayley, London (the standard work on the life of Cayley).
C.H.Gibbs-Smith, 1962, Sir George Cayley's Aeronautics 1796–1855, London (covers his aeronautical achievements in more detail).
—1974, "Sir George Cayley, father of aerial navigation (1773–1857)", Aeronautical Journal (Royal Aeronautical Society) (April) (an updating paper).
JDS

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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