A replica of Cayley's glider being flown by Derek Piggott in 1973
George Cayley's gliders.
Sir George Cayley's Man Carrying Glider
After receiving his early education in schools at York and Nottingham, he went to Southgate in 1792 to study electricity and chemistry under the tutelage of George Cadogan Morgan. In the same year his father, Sir Thomas Cayley, died, and he succeeded to the baronetcy.
Cayley first experimented with aeronautics at Southgate in 1792, using a Chinese "flying top," a toy helicopter demonstrated by Launoy and Bienvenu about 1784. The next evidence of his interest in aeronautics, discovered in 1935, was a silver disc dated 1799 and bearing a design of an aircraft with a fixed wing, rudder, an elevator, and two large oars extending from the boat. For several years after 1800 his notebook contains observation,s and theoretical studies on the flight of many species of birds. Cayley is considered the problem of heavier-than-air flight to dependency on research on the behavior of the inclined plane. His researches along both lines continued until about 1810. In 1807 he experimented with an engine utilizing the heat of exploding gunpowder. In 1808 he built some fixed-wing gliders of such size that he invented the tension or bicycle wheel for use as a launching device. His articles in Nicholson's Journal of Natural Philosophy in 1809 and 1810, reprinted in later years, summarise zed his thoughts and the results of his experiments; he discussed the relation of velocity to lift, wing loading, stresses, weight saving, and the principle of the internal-combustion engine. He recommended streamlining, stating that every pound (0.45 kg) of direct resistance would support 30 pounds (13.6 kg) of additional weight. His biplane glider, with a wing area of 300 square feet (28 sq meters), could carry a man several yards (2-3 meters).
About 1815 Cayley became interested in navigable balloons, and his writings of that period, and the need for internal bracing. He is the recommended division of the gas containers into sections and waterproofing of the outside envelope; as well as the fires in balloons. Cayley patented his hot-air engine in 1837 and proposed a twin-rotor, a steam-powered helicopter in 1840. In 1853, he recommended the use of the screw propeller for power and suggested a hydrogen-powered engine as a possibility. There is evidence that he was still experimenting with gliders as late as 1850 to 1853, and with 1855 he described an improvement on the aerial with which he had experimented more than 60 years before.