Under the new Secretary, Archie Ballantyne, the activities of the Society continued to expand. In 1954, the Society was asked to sponsor an Air Transport Course which, it was considered, would help to educate airline executives and to bring air transport operators and manufacturers together, to their mutual advantage. The Council of the Society decided not just to sponsor the venture but to run such a course.

The first Air Transport Course was held at Oxford in 1956, with the Secretary as Director and three resident lecturers, on the economics, operations and law of air transport and with ‘guest’ lecturers from international airlines and organisations. So successful was the course that it was held annually at Oxford into the new century. It was originally held over three weeks but was reduced to eight days at the request of sponsors who no longer wanted their staff away for so long. During the 1990s, week-long versions of the course were held in Kenya, South Africa and Cyprus.


The Sopwith Camel, left, and SE5A, G-EBIC, of the Nash Collection inside the marquee at the 1954 RAeS Garden Party at London Airport on 13 June. RAeS (NAL).

During the post-war years, aeronautics became more and more specialised and it was impossible to cover all subjects in any one lecture session to satisfy all members. In 1957, the Society authorised and drew up rules for the formation of sections to cover specialised activities. A Students’ Section of the Society had been formed in 1921, which became the Graduates’ and Students’ Section in 1934 when the grade of membership of Graduate was instituted, and this was now brought under the new rules for Sections. The first new section to be formed was the Guided Flight Section which soon became the Astronautics and Guided Flight Section. This was followed in 1960 by the Rotorcraft Section after the amalgamation with the Society of the Helicopter Association of Great Britain. Each Section was under the general direction of the Council but had a large measure of autonomy of its affairs under its own Committees and organised its own lectures, many of which were published in the Journal.

The first group to be formed, although before the new rules, was the Historic Aircraft Maintenance Group after the Society had bought, in 1953 (the 50th anniversary of the Wrights’ first flight), the Nash Collection of Historic Aircraft to prevent it being sold to America. It was then thought that a National Aeronautical Museum would be founded. The aircraft, which included a 1909 Blériot, 1912 Caudron GIII, 1913 Maurice Farman F40, 1914 Avro 504K, 1917 Sopwith Camel, 1917-18 Fokker DVII and 1918 SE5A, were restored by voluntary workers, enthusiasts and some ‘old hands’ – craftsmen with long association with aircraft going back to the 1914-18 war. The aircraft were shown at several of the Society’s Garden Parties, including the Centenary one but, in 1991 the nine aircraft from this collection, together with the Vickers Wellington bomber which had been added to it, were sold to the Ministry of Defence, realising over £250,000 and ensuring that the aircraft could be displayed and maintained by the RAF Museum. Some smaller items were not included in the sale.

In 1959, the first Groups were formed under the new rules. They were the Man Powered Aircraft Group, the Agricultural Aviation Group and the Historical Group. The Air Law Group was formed in 1961 and the Test Pilots’ Group in 1963. There are now over 20 Specialist Groups who meet to organise conferences, lectures and to write the occasional Paper in response to current topics of interest. The Groups include: Aerodynamics, Aerospace Medicine, Air Law, Air Power, Air Transport, Airworthiness and Maintenance, Avionics and Systems, Flight Operations, Flight Test, Flight Simulation, General Aviation, Management Studies, Historical, Human Factors, Human Powered, Rotorcraft, Space, Structures and Materials, Propulsion (this is a joint group with the Institution of Mechanical Engineers), Unmanned Air Systems and Weapon Systems and Technology.


Just as in 1866, some members of the Society talked of man-powered flight so, in 1966, a number of man-powered flight enthusiasts had built lightweight aircraft to be flown by man alone. In 1959, a prize of £5,000 was offered by Henry Kremer, an industrialist, for the first successful flight of a man-powered aircraft flying a figure of eight around two markers half a mile apart. The Southampton University Man Powered Aircraft Group achieved the first man-powered flight on 9 November 1961, followed on 16 November by the first flight of the Puffin of the Hatfield Man Powered Aircraft Club. In May 1962 a special award of £50 was made to the Hatfield Club for a straight flight over half a mile. Unfortunately, both of these aircraft were damaged in accidents but a second Puffin was built and flew in 1965. All these aircraft, as well as two research projects, received financial assistance from the Society. Attempts were also made by enthusiasts in Liverpool and Halton.

The RAeS Man Powered Aircraft Group, Rules Committee, Dr Paul MacCready, Bryan Allen, pilot; Taras Kiceniuk and Henry Kremer in the Lecture Theatre at the Society’s headquarters at No.4 Hamilton Place, London, December 1979.

Eventually the prize was increased to £50,000 and was won in America by Dr Paul MacCready with Gossamer Condor in 1977. Henry Kremer gave a further £100,000 for the first flight across the English Channel and that was again won by MacCready, this time with Gossamer Albatross in 1979. He then gave another £100,000 for a world speed competition. Interest was immediate and money was distributed to five prizewinners. There are still two further major competitions: marathon for £50,000 and sporting aircraft for £100,000. In July 2012 and again in 2013 the Society’s Human Powered Aircraft Group organised the Icarus Cup where teams competed in various tasks.


Excavations for the Lecture Theatre
Dr Archie Ballantyne, RAeS Secretary, surveys the excavations for the lecture theatre in 1959. RAeS (NAL)

The almost finished Lecture Theatre and fifth floor taken from Park Lane. RAeS (NAL).

The lecture theatre c.1980. RAeS (NAL).

The Airbus Business Suite in 2016. RAeS (NAL).

For many years the Society had dreamt of having its own lecture theatre. The Annual Report of the Council for 1946-47 recorded: “It is with regret that the Society has no lecture hall of its own.” When the Presidential Address was, temporarily, revived in 1956 on the 90th anniversary of the Society, the need for the Society to have its own lecture hall in addition to its own home, was emphasised. Immediately one member, a Past President, Sir George Dowty, donated a cheque for £100. But, not until 1957 were active steps possible. Many sites and possibilities had been investigated but when the Hyde Park Corner Scheme was announced the Society was able to buy enough land from a neighbouring garden to 4 Hamilton Place to make a lecture theatre feasible. With access to the rear of the building made possible because of the reconstruction of Hyde Park Corner, and the possibility of extending the lease of 4 Hamilton Place, an appeal was launched. Members and industry responded and work on the Society’s lecture theatre was started in 1959. On 2 December 1960, Lord Brabazon of Tara formally declared the lecture theatre open. At the same time a further (fifth) floor was added to the top of the house. In 1979 a new lease with the Crown Estates Commissioner was signed which would have expired on 5 January 2059, however, on 31 March 2009 the Society purchased the freehold, thereby safeguarding its headquarters for future generations. During 2003 the lecture theatre was refurbished following a kind donation from the Boeing Company. In 2006 the basement area under the lecture theatre, which for many years had been used as an overflow book and journal store for the Library, was cleared and completely refurbished following generous sponsorship by Airbus UK to create the Airbus Business Suite. A second donation from Airbus Group allowed substantial improvements to the access to the Suite, along with new basement toilet facilities. These were formally opened by Denis Ranque, Chairman of Airbus Group, on 19 January 2015.

22 July 2016