Part 4 of the Society's history. The membership was falling – from 1,100 in 1919 to 800 in 1923. In this same year the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust donated £500 towards the purchase of rare books for the library. However, the general financial structure was becoming worse and, by 1925, with the membership at little more than 600, the Society could no longer afford to pay a Secretary.

One of the Society's displays at the massive International Aero Exhibition in 1929 (RAeS/NAL)


The Council realised that there would have to be a meaning to the qualifications of Associate Fellow and Fellow, thus demonstrating that these grades guaranteed a standard of knowledge of aeronautics and that an Associate Fellow of the Society had not been elected on his experience alone. Accordingly, in 1920, an announcement was made to this effect and new regulations about examinations, originally planned for 1912, came into force in 1922. 

In 1933 the Chairman of the SBAC, founded 50 years after the Society, wrote to the President of the Society:
“The Society of British Aircraft Constructors has followed with great interest for some years the constant efforts which the Royal Aeronautical Society has made to make the Associate Fellowship of the Society very real qualifications.
“They are satisfied now that each grade calls for such experience, training and technical knowledge that, other things being equal, an Associate Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society should be chosen for a post in Industry in preference to one not holding one of these qualifications.” 

Possibly the original syllabuses might not be impressive today but, over the years, the entire pattern of scientific and engineering education has changed completely. 

The earliest examinations had two parts. Part I consisted of papers on English and Elementary Mathematics and these were labelled General Education Qualifications. Part II required two papers from a large variety of subjects, including aerodynamics. By today’s standards this seems somewhat elementary but, in the 1920s, one of the British universities provided a course consisting only of one-hour lectures, three days a week, for two terms; the lectures covered aerodynamics, performance and propulsion, but at that university there were no laboratory periods. Examinations were held overseas as far as India and Australia with the subjects expanded to cover non-engineers (e.g. pilots) and were only discontinued in the 1970s.

THE 1920s

At the suggestion of Colonel The Master of Sempill, on the 25th anniversary of the Wrights’ first powered flights, 17 December 1928, the Royal Aeronautical Society held a dinner at the Science Museum under the original 1903 Flyer. In protest at the Smithsonian Institution’s lack of recognition of the Wright brothers’ achievement, Orville Wright had shipped the original 1903 Flyer to the Science Museum, London, in January 1928, under whose care it remained until October 1948. RAeS (NAL).

The President’s address and reception at the Royal Institution, London, to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Society on 12 January 1956. The vote of thanks was seconded by Capt Laurence Pritchard HonFRAeS, RAeS Secretary 1926-1951. RAeS (NAL).

To return to the post-WW1 period. In 1919, J Laurence Pritchard became Editor of the Journal and Lt Col W Lockwood Marsh was Secretary. At Cambridge Pritchard took a degree in mathematics and then went to Fleet Street. During the war he was transferred from the Army into the Royal Naval Air Service to work on calculations for aircraft structures. With Professor A J Sutton Pippard, with whom he had worked at the Admiralty, he wrote Aeroplane Structures. 

In 1923 the Society organised the first International Air Congress to be held in London. The President of the Congress was HRH The Duke of York and it was officially opened by HRH The Prince of Wales who, with his brother, was joint patron of the Society. The Congress was a great success and was attended by some 551 representatives from 21 countries.

Nevertheless membership was falling – from 1,100 in 1919 to 800 in 1923. In this same year the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust donated £500 towards the purchase of rare books for the library. However, the general financial structure was becoming worse and, by 1925, with the membership at little more than 600, the Society could no longer afford to pay a Secretary. Lockwood Marsh, probably to become better known as the founder and Editor of Aircraft Engineering, resigned. Now the Society was almost back to its starting point but Pritchard, Editor of the Journal with a token salary only and earning his living as a freelance journalist in Fleet Street, became Honorary Secretary and then, as the Society’s finances improved, Secretary from 1926.

Once more the Society was at a low ebb but again there came a steady although unspectacular improvement. Both the Air Ministry and the SBAC gave donations of £250 per annum. Pritchard visited the British aircraft firms to enlist their help and many agreed to encourage their employees to join the Society; in many cases the encouragement took the form of agreement to pay the entrance fee and, for the first year, the annual subscription. This drive for membership increased the total to over 1,200 in four years.

In 1925 the Guggenheim Fund gave the Society £1,000 on condition that it was spent. So the Journal was enlarged and a collection of slides was begun in the library but lack of funds still curtailed the activities of the Society. Pritchard began a series of lectures at schools throughout the country to stimulate interest and in three years delivered 100 lectures.

The Institution of Aeronautical Engineers, which had been founded in 1919, was also feeling the financial pinch and, in 1927, it was incorporated in the Society; from then, until 1960, the full name of the Society was ‘the Royal Aeronautical Society with which is incorporated the Institution of Aeronautical Engineers.’ In 1960 to this was added ‘and the Helicopter Association of Great Britain’ which was amalgamated with the Society that year.


In 1925 formal rules for Branches of the Society were drawn up by the Council. After the war there had been considerable interest in aviation in Scotland and a Branch had been formed there in 1919 but the administration and other arrangements were not satisfactory and it was wound up in 1926. Under the new Rules and more satisfactory conditions in 1925, a Branch was formed at Coventry. This Branch has continued ever since. Subsequently a Branch was established at Glasgow in 1944.

Since 1966 the RAeS has expanded its UK Branch network to cover areas of aerospace activity, such as Farnborough and Cranfield that previously were not served by a local Branch. The Branch network has also been flexible and responsive to demographic changes within the UK aerospace industry and has established successful new Branches in growth areas such as Gatwick and Cardiff. Similarly, the evolution of the industry has resulted in the closure of some Branches primarily as a result of industry rationalisation and redeployment. Examples are Leicester, Merthyr Tydfil, Halton, Reading and Middle Wallop, the latter closing in 1995 due to the Army School of Aeronautical Engineering relocating to Arborfield.

Aerospace is now a global industry and the Royal Aeronautical Society has successfully evolved in line with the aerospace community it seeks to represent. Development of the Society’s global profile and influence is reflected in the growth of RAeS Branches around the world. Today the Royal Aeronautical Society is a truly global organisation and proudly boasts an international network of 67 Branches covering all the major centres of the global aerospace industry, including Toulouse, Seattle and Munich. Annually the RAeS Branches now host 400 lecture evenings around the globe.

The Branches of the Society are unique in one respect; all other engineering institutions confine the membership of local associations to members of the parent Institution only but membership of the Branches is open to all interested in aviation.


One of the Society displays at the International Aero Exhibition held in Olympia in 1929. RAeS (NAL).

Society staff and organisers of the International Aero Exhibition at Olympia, 16-27 July 1929. From left: (Back row) Boy Messenger, Miss N G Jones, J E Hodgson, Miss Jarvis, Capt J Laurence Pritchard, Miss Betty Voyce, Miss St Barbe, R M Balston and Commissionaire. (Front row) Herr Langer, Charles Dollfus, The Master of Sempill (RAeS President), General Bartolucci and Prof Giacomelli. RAeS (NAL)

In 1929 an International Aero Exhibition was held at Olympia and the Society brought together a remarkable historical exhibition. This was a comprehensive selection of historical material giving a record of man’s struggle for flight from the legendary tales of mythology up to 1914. The success of this exhibition was due to J E Hodgson, Honorary Librarian of the Society. Hodgson loaned material from his own collection and many others produced engravings, manuscripts, books, models and other objects and inventions. Exhibits were received from France, Italy, Germany and Sweden. Lectures on the progress of aeronautics were delivered by speakers from France, Holland and Sweden, as well as from the UK; the Australians, Kingsford Smith and Ulm, lectured on their pioneer transpacific flight. It took 30 pages of the Journal (October 1929) to list and give a brief description of the exhibits.

5 April 2016