Archives and Heritage Collections

The National Aerospace Library contains collections of rare books, aero company publications, personal papers, organisational archives and other material chronicling the development of man’s dream of flight.

Online Heritage Collection

Available to view online via the RAeS Heritage Collections website are original papers of world heritage importance that are held within the Library archives. They papers originate from major pioneers in early aviation whose work became a series of 'stepping stones', which led to the evolution of powered flight and the development of the aeroplane.

Included among the collections are the original Sir George’s Cayley notebooks, the specifications for Henson’s 1843 Aerial Steam Carriage, Lawrence Hargrave photograph albums, Percy Pilcher's drawings, the British and Colonial Aerosplane Company Ltd Minute Book No.1 1910-1919, Horace Short’s drawings of the Wright Flyer and the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain Council Minutes from its formation in 1866 to 1909.

Rare books

We have over two hundred books printed before 1800, including Benjamin Robins’ New Principles of Gunnery. Dating from 1742, one of the great early works in aerodynamics. In this book, Robins described his pioneering experiments measuring drag of high speed projectiles.

We also have books signed by some of the great names in aviation history including Sir Arthur “Bomber” Harris and Sir Frank Whittle.

Aero company and official publications

We have an excellent collection of marketing and technical pamphlets and staff magazines issued by iconic aircraft manufacturers such as Junkers, Handley Page, Hawker Siddeley and De Havilland.

We also have Air Ministry and Ministry of Aircraft Production Publications and World War II Intelligence Reports.

Download our aircraft company collection guide for more information.

Archives & Manuscripts

We hold the archive of the Royal Aeronautical Society, including membership forms, annual reports and committee minutes. The correspondence files include letters from the greats of aeronautics including the Wright Brothers etc.

We also hold the archives of the Society of British Aerospace Companies and hold personal papers from:

  • Sir George Cayley (1773-1857)
  • John Stringfellow (1799-1883)
  • Wilbur Wright (1867-1912)
  • Orville Wright (1871-1948)
  • Katharine Wright (1874-1929)
  • Lawrence Hargrave (1850-1915)
  • Major B.F.S. Baden-Powell (1860-1937)
  • C.G. Grey (1875-1953)
  • The design notebooks of F.S. Barnwell (1880-1938)

Other collections

Download our collection guides for more information about our other Special Collections:

Adopt a book

Owing to a combination of age and use, a number of the older volumes in the library are in a worn condition and require rebinding.

These books and journals date primarily from pre-1945 and form a major collection of the world's aeronautical heritage which should be preserved for current and future generations of researchers. The average cost of rebinding a worn volume is about £35, depending on its size and condition. Anyone who would like to contribute to rebinding costs will have their donation recorded on the bookplate inside the particular rebound volume.

A list of the titles which currently require rebinding can be downloaded here.

If you would like to 'adopt' a book or journal, either in your own name or in memory of someone else, please download a request form and return it to the librarians, either by e-mail or by post.