March 2015

Over the past few months I have met officially quite a few people who were not well acquainted with the Society, even if they had heard of it. So I have been asked “What is the Royal Aeronautical Society? What does it do and what does it stand for?”

The first response to these questions might be to quote the Royal Charter about “the general advancement of Aeronautical Art, Science and Engineering.” This statement is as relevant today as when similar words were first written nearly 150 years ago. Yet the words are somewhat archaic to the modern ear and they are deliberately all-encompassing. Describing the geographic spread of our Branches and the range of topics covered by our Specialist Groups goes some way to putting flesh on the bones, but there is rarely time to do justice to the full scope of our interests and activities, even in a formal presentation. So it seems to me that we need a set of descriptors of what the Society stands for that is succinct, easy to understand and that could be justified, if challenged, by drilling down to specific examples.

So here are my thoughts on what the Society stands for as it advances aeronautical art, science and engineering. They comprise seven simple headings or descriptions, in no particular order:

Safe, efficient and sustainable aviation and spaceflight. This harks back to the earliest days of the Society and, in recent years, is probably best exemplified by the work carried out in several Specialist Groups on standards for flight simulation devices and on improvement in pilot training methods and standards. The outputs from this work have been used by the International Civil Aviation Organization to help frame rules and guidance for civil aviation around the world.

An effective defence aerospace capability. Security and defence are among the most important duties of any government and are enduring themes in the Society’s conferences and lectures.

Self-evidently, efficient aviation and effective defence require a modern, innovative aerospace industry. A large proportion of our members are employed in the aerospace industry and, throughout the 20th century, many of the leaders of the industry were also the leaders of the Society. Our Honours, Medals and Awards continue to recognise and promote technological innovation while our Corporate Partner scheme provides support to the industrial base.

Professionalism in individuals and organisations. One of the reasons for founding the Society in 1866 was the perceived need to promote professionalism in the art and science of ballooning. Professionalism, overseen by the Professional Standards Board, remains at the heart of our business.

It could be argued that the Society’s raison d’être is to create, nurture and share aeronautical knowledge. Many of the earliest pioneers used the Society to exchange knowledge and ideas, and to debate the technical issues of the day. Our library remains a repository of unique aeronautical information. Overseen by the Learned Society Board, our Specialist Groups continue, in a variety of ways, to help roll back the frontiers of aeronautical knowledge.

Informed debate on aeronautical issues. The Society is one of only a handful of organisations worldwide that can offer independent, objective, but informed, views on aeronautical issues. Our conferences and lectures, in Hamilton Place and throughout the Branches, have an important role to play in encouraging informed debate. This role is now more important than ever before when issues such as the environmental impact of aviation and airport capacity are so highly-charged.

The Society does a great deal to promote education, skills and careers in aviation and aerospace. Current examples range from Cool Aeronautics and the Schools Build-a-Plane Challenge to the Foundation Bursaries for aerospace and aviation studies.

I have also been asked by members “What do I get for my membership?” or “How do I persuade people to join the Society?” There are many reasons, depending on personal circumstances, why an individual would belong to the Society. Typical reasons might be: to obtain support for professional career development; for the networking opportunities; as a stimulating pastime; or perhaps for some members the opportunity to give something back to future generations. However, I hope that, in addition, all our members choose to belong because they support and are proud of what the Society represents. So I believe that the list above would be equally useful for helping to persuade a potential member to join.

As I said, these are my thoughts, although I have shared them with the Council. I would emphasise that this is not a bid to redefine strategy or to replace any of the Society’s guiding documents. It is merely an attempt to define in a few simple headings ‘what we are about’. Nor would I claim that they are the final word on the subject; I see this as the beginning rather than the end of the discussion.

Nevertheless, this exercise has certainly helped me to have a better understanding of our great Society and I hope that it might help others.

Air Cdre Bill Tyack