Mathematicians in Early British Aeronautics through Contemporary Literature

Royle, Anthony Paul (2019). Mathematicians in Early British Aeronautics through Contemporary Literature. PhD thesis The Open University.



The turn of the 20th century heralded a revolution in humankind’s attempts to fly. An incessant race began to produce stronger, faster, more versatile craft that were reliable and controllable. The innocent motive of providing an expeditious means of transport was soon usurped, however, by a more sinister arbiter, that of military application. Indeed, WW1 was the catalyst for huge global advancements in the understanding and technological development of aeronautics, with mathematics at the core of a new genre of engineering created by a cohort of talented academics, a number of whom took to the sky themselves. Contemporary literature played an important role in this story. Not only was it a source of record and reference, it provided a forum for debate and exchange; a medium where new ideas could be distributed to a wider audience to inform, update, and often attract critical review. The nature of written publications relating to the field varied enormously, ranging from highly technical reports to general interest articles in the popular press, in-between, the niche journals, periodicals, and books. A further vault of enlightenment now exists in the form letters, diaries, and reminiscences that serve to draw readers into the period. In this thesis I want to showcase the contributions of a number of mathematicians and scientists to the development of aeronautical engineering in Britain during the early 1900s and, as a sub-theme, use examples in contemporary literature and from existing archival sources to illustrate the extent to which the mathematics being employed in aeronautics was present in the public domain; its essence and function, its impact and worth, and its importance in choreographing and accounting for the efforts of the principal academics and practical engineers involved.

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