Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Sir George Cayley (27 December 1773 - 15 December 1857) was an exuberant polymath from Brompton-by-Sawdon , near Scarborough in Yorkshire. He was a naturalist, physical scientist, engineer, inventor and politician. His most celebrated achievement was to design and build a functional piloted glider, nearly fifty years before the Wright Brothers. He was the uncle of the mathematician Arthur Cayley.
Sir George inherited Brompton Hall and its estates on the death of his father, together with the title of Baronet. Though born into a life of privilege and immense wealth, he could not be characterised as an idle aristocrat. Free from any concern about money, and in the optimistic spirit of the times, he launched himself into a bewildering variety of projects, mostly aimed at improving the world through science and technology.
A prolific inventor, Cayley keenly observed and chronicled the natural world throughout his life. He was a Member of Parliament (for the Whig party). He was a founder member of the Polytechnic Institution (a national organisation set up in 1838 to educate the public on artistic and scientific matters), and for many years he served as its chairman.
A number of his inventions were forgotten and then "re-invented" by others, many years later. Among the many things that he invented are self-righting life-boats, tension-spoke wheels, caterpillar tractors (which he called the Universal Railway ), automatic signals for railway crossings, seat-belts, experimental designs for helicopters, and a kind of prototypical internal combustion engine fuelled by gun-powder. He also made contributions in the fields of prosthetics, heat engines, electricity, theatre architecture , ballistics, optics and land reclamation.
He is mainly remembered, however, for his flying machines and considered by some to be the first aeronautical engineer. He built a "whirling-arm apparatus" so that he could measure the force of the air on variously shaped specimens at various air-speeds and angles of attack. He also experimented with free-flying model gliders of various wing sections, in the stairwells at Brompton Hall. These meticulously documented scientific experiments led him to develop an efficient cambered airfoil and to identify the four vector forces that influence an aircraft: thrust, lift, drag, and weight. He discovered the importance of dihedral for lateral stability in flight, and deliberately set the centre-of-gravity of many of his models well below the wings for this reason. Investigating many other theoretical aspects of flight, many now acknowledge him as the first analyst of aerodynamics.
By 1804 he was producing model gliders of a pattern that is similar to that of modern aircraft: a pair of large monoplane wings towards the front, with a smaller tailplane at the back comprising horizontal stabilisers and a vertical fin.
His experimental models grew in size until eventually he built a machine that could carry a person. After demonstrating that animals could fly in it safely, in late June or early July 1853 he persuaded his coachman to have a go. Launched from a hill on the Brompton Estate by teams of estate workers, Sir George Cayley's coachman flew the machine for a distance of 130 metres across Brompton Dale, landing safely into a meadow on the other side. This was the earliest recorded manned flight in a heavier-than-air machine.
Sir George is believed to have worked entirely alone on his development of a theory of flight. Most of his contemporaries considered it to be no more than a whimsical hobby, but today we recognise his enormous achievements in this field.
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