On March 10th Dick Poole gave a Zoom talk to Members on the Royal Aero Club (not to be confused with the Royal Aeronautical Society) of which he is a trustee. He was introduced by Chris Roberts who told us that Dick started in the industry as a graduate apprentice with Vickers in 1960 where he worked on aircraft from Vanguard to Concorde. Moving to HSA Kingston’s Flight Development Department at Dunsfold, he covered, in 18 years, Harrier, Sea Harrier and Hawk development becoming Chief flight Test Engineer in 1984. A highlight was being the principal flight test engineer on the ski jump development trials. His next appointment was Assistant Chief Designer AV-8B at Kingston in 1987 whence in 1992 he moved to Warton as Chief Engineer Light Combat Aircraft and New Jet Trainer. Finally for BAE he worked with McDonnell-Douglas and Lockheed Martin on ASTOVL leading to the F-35 programme.
    The Royal Aero Club was formed in 1901, said Dick, following discussions between balloonists the Hon CS Rolls, Frank Hedges-Butler, his daughter, Vera and Stanley Spencer, all members of the Royal Automobile Club (RAC), following a balloon flight from the Crystal Palace.

In 1910 it became the Royal Aero Club (RAeC). The primary objectives of the club were to encourage and develop the study of aeronautics, to organise sporting contests, to grant certificates of competence and to promote meetings between those interested in aviation in all its forms. In the early 1900s the French were pursuing powered flight and established the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI) in 1905. This became the international governing body for sporting aviation with the RAeC as one of the founder members, representing the United Kingdom, running competitions and issuing aviators’ certificates on behalf of the FAI in various classes: aeronauts (balloons) from 1905, aviators (aeroplanes) from 1910, airships from 1911, gliders from 1930 and helicopters from 1947.

The Royal Aero Club

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The first aviators’ certificate was issued to JTC Moore-Brabazon on March 8th 1910. The RAeC does not have these documents but has a record of all the information about the holder. Up until 1952, when they were replaced by Ministry of Aviation Private Pilots’ Licences, more than 28,000 certificates were issued. To achieve such a certificate required two distance flights of at least 5 km each and one altitude flight at 50 m or above with all landings with the engine stopped at or before touchdown and the aircraft at rest within 50 m of a point previously nominated by the candidate. These requirements were regularly adjusted as aircraft capabilities changed.

    Early heavier-than-air flying activity in SE England was concentrated at Brooklands, Farnborough, Hendon and the Isle of Sheppey, the RAeC using mostly the latter, initially at Shellbeach, Leysdown, then, due to frequent water-logging, at Eastchurch. At Shellbeach JTC Moore-Brabazon made the first flight by an Englishman in England (but in a French Voisin) on April 30th 1909. On November 20th 1909 the Hon CS Rolls opened Eastchurch by landing his Short-Wright there. The Short Brothers also built their own designs and Wright licensed aircraft at Sheppey.
    Dick showed an historic photograph taken when Wilbur and Orville Wright visited Mussel Manor at Shellbeach, the RAeC clubhouse, to meet the Short brothers, Oswald, Horace and Eustace. Present was the wealthy Francis McClean who owned the Manor and had bought the land at Eastchurch for the RAeC. He also provided aircraft and instructors to train the first four Navy officer pilots and then did the same for six Army officers at Larkhill. Also at the meeting were Charles Rolls, Brabazon, Frank Hedges-Butler and Warwick Wright, the English aircraft maker. Clearly the RAeC was a ‘gentleman’s’ club.
    There were several groups in the RAeC which grew to become independent Member organisations: the British Aerobatic Association (BAEA), the British Gliding Association (BGA), the British Balloon & Airship Club (BBAC), the British Parachute Association (BPA), the British Precision Pilots Association (BPPA), the British Microlight Aircraft Association (BMAA), the Royal Aero Club Records, Racing & Rally Association (RRRA), the Helicopter Club of Great Britain (HCGB), the Light Aircraft Association (LAA) formerly the Popular Flying Association, the British Hang Gliding & Para Gliding Association (BHPA), the British Model Flying Association (BMFA) formerly the Society of Model Aircraft Engineers (SMAE), and the Formula Air Racing Association for small, fast aeroplanes. The RRRA organises competitions including the King’s Cup air race, and the LAA has an inspectorate and supervises the airworthiness of light and homebuilt aeroplanes and lighter aircraft that no longer have a design authority, for example Austers and Tiger Moths. The BMFA is by far the largest with 35,000 members compared with 8,000 active glider pilots. Overall governance of the RAeC is by the Council with representatives from all the above bodies    
    There are also Associate Members of the RAeC: the Royal Aero Club Trust, the British Kite Flying Association, the British Women Pilots Association, Flying Scholarships for the Disabled, the Historic Aircraft association, the Human Powered Aircraft Group, the Royal Air Force Museum and the Tiger Club.
    The principal purposes of the Royal Aero Club are to promote and encourage the practice and development of aviation sport and recreation, to promote and to further the interests of those engaged in aeronautical activities, to ensure the proper representation of all branches of sporting aviation in Britain at the International level through the membership of the FIA and undertake the responsibilities of a National Aero Club under FIA Statutes and Sporting Code. Also to represent sporting aviation to the British Government and other bodies in the interests of its members and to award medals and other distinctions at National level for achievements and services in sporting aviation and to make recommendations to the FIA for awards at International level and to other bodies to promote recognition of such achievements and services. It also encourages collaboration between members, coordinates matters and arbitrates disputes.
    Examples of world renowned RAeC activities are the running of three Schneider Trophy races, the King’s Cup races from 1922 to 1947 and the Aerial Derbies in the ’20s and ’30s. It organised the England to Australia MacRobertson air race in 1934, certified Alex Henshaw’s UK to Cape Town and return Mew Gull records in 1938 and observed for the FIA the world speed records set by the Meteor in 1945, and the Hunter and Swift in 1953.
    Turning to the RAeC Trust, of which Dick is a Trustee, the objectives are cataloguing and conserving the collection of unique historical documents, paintings, trophies and artefacts held by the RAeC, and promoting the development of young people by helping them to participate in air sports and aviation activities, assisted by a Flying for Youth bursary and scholarship scheme. The RaeC had a London club building at 119 Piccadilly until the mid ‘60s when the lease expired so there is no longer a permanent home for the collection so now some items are on display or in storage at the RAF Museum, Hendon, some on long-term loan to appropriate bodies and a 1910 TW Kingslake Clarke biplane ‘hang glider’ is being overhauled by the Glider heritage Collection at Lasham. Dick showed slides of many examples of the historic photographs, artefacts and documents in the collection. Details can be found at www.royalaeroclubcollection.org.
    After a questions and answers session hosted by Chris Roberts, Meetings Secretary Frank Rainsborough gave the vote of thanks for Dick’s most interesting talk.