In an age of social media, LinkedIn and smartphones, what is the continuing relevance of a learned professional membership body like the Royal Aeronautical Society - founded some 150 years ago? What can it offer the global aerospace community of today and tomorrow? TIM ROBINSON suggests that the existence of the RAeS has never been more critical for the aerospace, aviation and space challenges we now face.  

There is pleasing symmetry to be found that, almost 150 years after a group of visionaries came together to work out how to get into the sky by forming the Aeronautical Society, last month a Briton and RAeS Fellow, Tim Peake, launched into orbit on the ultimate new frontier – space.

Today the RAeS is a global organisation and a multidisciplinary one. In 1866 the challenges to achieving flight, though immense, were mainly of a scientific and technical nature. Once each obstacle fell, from lighter-than-air, to heavier, to speed and distance, to the jet age – there was an easily identified engineering way forward to the next aeronautical summit to be conquered. The path from the Wright Brothers to Apollo on the Moon was thus a logical development of the urge to conquer the sky. Today that guiding roadmap has all but disappeared.

The future challenges for aerospace and aviation are not a quest for speed or height but a set of complex (wicked) interconnected problems that engage social, political, economic and regulatory spheres, as well as the technical, engineering and scientific bent. Sustainable aviation, autonomous weapons, airport expansion, commercial UAVs, skills crisis and robotic vs human space exploration are aerospace challenges that no one discipline can possibly solve by itself.

Thus the RAeS, with its multidisciplinary approach, which naturally draws professionals, however involved in aviation, aerospace or space, into a global network is well positioned to address these challenges. Today, it could be argued that in an era where these complex issues are interconnected and where there is ample evidence that specialist knowledge of politicians, decision-makers and the media has declined – it has never been more important for a body like the Royal Aeronautical Society to advance the ‘art, science and engineering’ of aeronautics through its global, professional membership and learned output.

8 January 2016