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The George Cayley Replica at Parham in 1984

By Stella Domoney

All (well, almost all) club members will know of Sir George Cayley “the father of modern aeronautics”, a wealthy Yorkshire landowner who devoted some of his time to developing and understanding very early aerofoils, a great advance on previous ‘ornithopter’ concepts involving flapping wings, to generate lift. He also recognised the basic principles of lift, weight, thrust and drag.

He designed the first known, successful, rigid heavier than air flying machine…his ‘Governable Parachute’, which flew in Brompton Dale near Scarborough in 1853. In fact he successfully flew an unmanned rigid machine in 1849 and apparently flew a small unmanned glider in 1804, probably the first flight by a heavier than air machine in history. The story of the first flight piloted by his footman is well known and probably apocryphal, and there is lots of fascinating historical information online (if you are interested and all aviators should be).


Most of the general public are unaware any farther back than the Wright Brothers 50 years later and whose ultimate use of a suitably light engine enabled sustained flight. There were others who designed and flew gliders in the second half of the 19th Century, most notably Otto Lilienthal who persisted with bird-like, weight shift designs. Powered flight was foreseen a half century earlier by Sir George himself.


In 1974 a replica of the machine was built for an Anglia TV programme about Sir George, by Southdown Aero Services, a glider repairing business then owned by Ken Fripp and subsequently his son Mike, based on the Lasham site. It was flown at the original site in the Yorkshire Wolds, by the late, hugely respected Derek Piggott.


A company associated with the Smithsonian Institute in the USA made a film about flight in the Animal Kingdom and it was decided to film the replica at Parham Airfield. Evidently unlike Lasham, the field provided camera angles with no background buildings out of historical context, and was flat and considerably more convenient than Yorkshire.


On a summers day in 1984 the machine arrived at Parham with a team to rig it and the film crew with, as I remember, camera crew, directors, producers, continuity, makeup (I made that up) and all the other necessary people, a Panaflex 70mm camera, very advanced at that time, and I recall, a Citroen Visa which I understood to be judged smooth enough with its French suspension for the sophisticated camera mount to film the glider on tow behind the car.