History of the Royal Aeronautical Society

The Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) was founded in 1866 and was originally known as The Aeronautical Society of Great Britain.

The first and founding members were:

  • His Grace The Duke of Argyll
  • Mr James Glaisher
  • Dr Hugh W. Diamond
  • Mr F.H. Wenham
  • Mr James Wm. Butler
  • Mr F.W. Brearey.

The objectives of the society were given as “for the advancement of Aerial Navigation and for Observations in Aerology connected therewith”.

The Duke of Argyll   


The first public meeting was held in the rooms of the Society of Arts (later Royal) on 27 June 1866. This cemented an association with the Society of Arts which would last for more than 70 years. At this meeting, a lecture was given by Wenham on ‘Aerial locomotion and the laws by which heavy bodies impelled through air are sustained’. His lecture is now one of the aeronautical classics and set the precedent for many others to follow, up to the present day.

The Society moved to its current premises, No.4 Hamilton Place, in 1938. It acquired from the Crown the lease along with the mews property opposite, Nos 8 and 9 Hamilton Place. A committee, with advisers from the Royal Institute of British Architects, was formed to make the necessary alterations to No.4 to make sure the premises were in keeping with the dignity of the Society and the original beauty of the house.

In 1940, the RAeS responded to the wartime need to expand the aircraft industry. The Society established a Technical Department to bring together the best available knowledge and present it in an authoritative and accessible form – a working tool for engineers who might come from other industries and lack the specialised knowledge required for aircraft design. This technical department became known as the Engineering Sciences Data Unit (ESDU) and eventually became a separate entity in the 1980s.

In 2016, the Society celebrated its 150th anniversary and members took the opportunity to celebrate achievement and excellence within the aeronautics community, and to look ahead to the next 50 years of innovation in aerospace.

The Society now has over 22,500 members and has become an international, multidisciplinary professional institution dedicated to the global aerospace community.