Few people today know the name Sir George Cayley, but to many historians he is known as the “Father of Aeronautics.” Born in Scarborough, England in 1773, he is credited with the basic layout we see today – an airplane with a single wing and a tail with control surfaces. His 1852 glider was the first fixed-wing aircraft to carry a human in flight. Cayley’s test pilot on these first hops was his carriage coachman, who was so alarmed by the flights that he quit. To this day, his name is unknown.
For more than 50 years, Cayley made improvements to his gliders. He changed the shape of the wings so the air would flow over them more efficiently. He designed a tail for the gliders to improve the performance and adapted a biplane design to add strength. He also recognized that there would be a need for power if the flight was to be in the air for a long time. Cayley wrote the treatise, On Aerial Navigation, which was published in three parts in the Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry, and the Arts in 1809-1810. It was noted that a fixed-wing aircraft with a power system for propulsion and a tail to assist in the control of the airplane would be the best way to make human flight possible. When others, such as the Wright Brothers and Glenn Curtiss, talked about standing on the shoulders of the greats, it is the likes of Cayley of whom they spoke.
The Museum’s reproduction was built by a member of the Royal Aeronautical Society, Commander James Sproule, from the original 1849-53 Cayley drawings, and was flown from the same hill at Brompton Dale (near Scarborough) as the original. It was donated to the Museum in 1994.