Keeping the flag flying for aviation hero Sir George

He is already known as the "father of aviation", but as the doors swing open on his 18th century workshop again Sir George Cayley could be dubbed Yorkshire's own Leonardo da Vinci by a new generation of followers.

Concern that Sir George, whose work led to the invention of the aeroplane, is becoming a forgotten hero even in his native Yorkshire has led supporters of his memory to reopen his old workshop – where he came up with not only ideas about flight but inventions which are still used today – to the public.

For years the building, built in Greek temple style with classical references, has lain unused in the grounds of Brompton Hall School in Brompton-by-Sawdon, near Scarborough, where Sir George followed the dream of making a man fly 60 years before the Wright brothers were ever heard of.

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The work space is festooned with the creations of Sir George's agile mind, including a model of the glider that came before the man-sized one that flew over a nearby Dale with Sir George's coachman at the controls in 1853.

But the reburbishment of the workshop, carried out by admirers of the inventor, working with the school and the Cayley family, is also meant to underline that Sir George was as far thinking as da Vinci with his ideas for inventions such as the tank.

There had been concern for years that Sir George, who was heavily influenced by the French Enlightenment, was actually better remembered in France than in his native Yorkshire,

Young George inherited the family estate at Brompton-by-Sawdon as a teenager.

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He conducted research into aerodynamics and published papers which the Wright brothers picked up on 60 years later.

But the pressures of also managing a large estate would send his mind in other directions.

Problems working the land in winter led him to invent tracked vehicles, similar to tanks, which could operate in the treacherous conditions.

He was also later to draw up a drainage scheme for the whole of the Vale of Pickering.

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His invention of the spoked wheel, originally for his aircraft, later became an essential part of the modern bicycle. Other inventions were as diverse as the safety curtain, for fire protection in theatres, to the design of unsinkable, self-righting lifeboats.

Nonetheless he had time for ten children andto be MP for Scarborough, where he was born. It helped that he had inherited wealth and a supportive family.

Other future brainwaves would also include ballistic shells, an artificial hand, railway automatic brakes and signal systems,

Yet for years, the only marker to his genius was a blue plaque on the outside of the workshop, which had been an empty room in the school for as long as anyone could remember.

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Then Leeds-born Ian Anderson Wormald, a test pilot for the RAF, attended a lecture on Cayley. "I was horrified to realise how little I knew about him," he confessed.

Mr Wormald teamed up with Jim Matthew, former head of physics at York University, and John Ackroyd, head of engineering at Manchester University.

They were determined to secure a more lasting legacy and formed the Sir George Cayley Commemoration Committee, of which Mr Wormald is chairman.

The first project in 2003 was a Cayley Festival in which Sir Richard Branson flew the Cayley glider, which had been recreated using modern materials at by BAE Systems at Brough.

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The next project was restoring the workshop, which was recently reopened by The Lord Crathorne, Lord Lieutenant of North Yorkshire. Mr Wormald said: "A 'Friends of the museum' association is being formed to fund the necessary maintenance of this historic building and its contents. In the meantime it is available to the public by arrangement through Brompton Hall School.

"We will continue the project until Sir George Cayley is no longer unknown in his own land."

Visionaries who looked to skies

Sir George Cayley was not the first inventor to dream of flight.

Leonardo da Vinci drew a helicopter, thinking it could be used as a war machine, but his design never got beyond a sketch.

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Sir George was interested in flight from the age of ten, inspired by the balloon experiments of the Montgolfier brothers in France. He took painstaking notes of the movements of birds in flight.

In 1809 and 1810, Cayley published three pioneering and correct papers on his aeronautical research.

In 1853 he persuaded his coachman to fly a glider was launched from a hill on the Brompton Estate by several teams of estate workers pulling on ropes and running downhill.

It flew between 100 and 200 metres across Brompton Dale into a meadow on the other side – the earliest recorded manned flight in a heavier-than-air machine.