Other Free Encyclopedias » Online Encyclopedia » Encyclopedia - Featured Articles » Contributed Topics from A-E

Cayley, Sir George

able light heavier gliders

(1773–1857) British engineer: the founder of aerodynamics.

Cayley belongs to the group of gentleman amateurs, able to use their wealth and the peace of country life to advance a scholarly enthusiasm. His school at York, and a clergyman tutor who trained him as a mechanic and in mathematics, gave him some skills needed for his later work, and his teenage enthusiasm for models became a life-long interest in flying. He knew of the first balloon flights, made in France by the brothers when he was 10 years old. Cayley improved a helicopter-type toy (then known as a ‘Chinese top’) and later made one which rose to 30 m, and he devised model gliders powered by twisted rubber. By 1799 he realized, ahead of all others, the basic problems of heavier-than-air flight and the relation of the forces of lift, drag and thrust.

By 1804 he had made a whirling-arm device for testing purposes, and he saw the advantages of a fixed-wing aircraft design; other experimenters, for the rest of the century, focused on flapping-wing designs which, despite the example of birds, were to prove a dead end. His experiments with gliders were extensive and led him to a man-carrying design able to fly short distances. However, although he foresaw, correctly, that propulsion using a light engine driving a screw propeller was the way to success, no such light engine was then available.

His publications, which form the basis of aerodynamics, appeared from 1809 to the 1840s. He also found time to serve as an MP, enjoy his 10 children and invent the caterpillar tractor, automatic signals for railways, the self-righting lifeboat and the tension wheel, which he designed for aircraft undercarriages and which is now most familiar in bicycles.

It was not until 1903 that the brothers, using Cayley’s ideas and adding their own talents, were able to achieve effective powered heavier-than-air flight; by then, a satisfactory light power unit, driven by petrol, could be made. As Wilbur Wright wrote in 1909, ‘about 100 years ago an Englishman, Sir George Cayley, carried the science of flying to a point which it never reached before and which it scarcely reached again during the last century’.

Cebotari (real name, Cebutaru), Maria [next] [back] Cayley, Arthur

User Comments

Your email address will be altered so spam harvesting bots can't read it easily.
Hide my email completely instead?

Cancel or