In his lifetime, Sir George Cayley (1773-1857) published just a few papers on the subject of aeronautics and many of his ideas are explored in five illustrated manuscript notebooks which were presented on permanent loan to the Royal Aeronautical Society in 1946 by Cayley's grandson Sir Kenelm Cayley.

The Society's Journal recorded at that time: "These notebooks and papers are unique in the history of aviation" and we are delighted to now be able to make them available though this site.

Please note: The first 22 pages of this volume had been removed.


Volume one of Sir George Cayley's notebooks includes descriptions, illustrations and discussion of:

  • Pages 1 - 22: Missing in original document.
  • Pages 23 - 45 (Section 1): Animal and sheep observations, his thumb nail growth, wheat growth, bird flight, ball in cylinder and motion and momentum.
  • Pages 46 - 60 (Section 2): Wheat, crows in flight, governments and the moon.
  • Pages 61 - 72 (Section 3): Projectile force, experiments in aerodynamics with the first whirling arm and the first model glider.
  • Pages 73 - 88 (Section 4): Deaths from smallpox reported in the Morning Post, electric fluids, lime kiln, heat, the velocity of light, electric fluids, the first compound design, combining fixed wings and flappers, a sketch of winged flying, blubber oil as fertilizer, measurements of birds, aerial navigation and coal combustion in steam engines.
  • Pages 89 - 100 (Section 5): The origins of creation, Woolf's steam engine, rainbows, the breaking strength of White Fir and timber, a gunpowder explosion engine and the wing area of a woodcock.
  • Pages 101 - 131 (Section 6): Horse feed costs, the casting of metal, measurements of an owl, sun halo observations, sketches of a flying machine, the wing surface of herons, showing the value of wing camber and aspect ratio, ornithopter design, weights of broken-up solids, tension or suspension wheel for aerial navigation cars in 1808, a second ornithopter design, experiements with kites, an improved ornithopter design, incorporating his discovery of the basic technique of bird propulsion and one of the earliest suggestions of tubular beam construction in engineering.
  • Pages 132 - 149 (Section 7): The seed of a sycamore tree, dimensions of a cock pheasant, weights of eggs, slate roofing, recipe for blacking, dimentions of a curlew, streamlining and the solid of least resistance, strength of taper poles, tension wheel rims, winds and muscles in crows, measurements of a hawk, bird-flight, shrinkage of cast iron, iron cement, glass paint, dimensions of a sparrow-hawk and the intensity of sunlight.


 1799-1811 (approx.)

Related Biography

 Sir George Cayley


Whirling arm, Gunpowder engine, Tension wheel

Taxonomy Terms

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