Royal Aeronautical Society


Brian Riddle - Former Chief Librarian

Brian Riddle, Former Chief Librarian for the Royal Aeronautical Society - National Aerospace Library, discusses his experience working with one of the oldest aeronautical collections in the world.

Brian talks about the impressive array of online resources, that anyone can use to research the history of flight. With George Cayley's doodles, letters from the Wright Brothers, and podcasted interviews with Test Pilot Chuck Yeager, the collection has something interesting for everyone.


National Aerospace Library:

Prints and Posters:

Aerosociety Heritage Collections:

Aerosociety You Tube:

National Aerospace Library Sound Archive:

Please Note: This is an automated, machine-generated transcription. We have presented this 'as is' and have not undertaken any editing.

hello and welcome to the max communications 2020 podcast a series of podcasts where we explore various archives and collections my name is faith williams and i'm joined today by brian riddle former chief librarian for the royal aeronautical society hi brian would you like to introduce yourself and talk us talk to us about what you do at the aeronautical society yes well basically i've worked with um the library for the past 36 years having originally joined society staff back in august 1984 so i'm actually probably the longest-serving member of the staff that was that was left up till now the society is the oldest aeronautical society in the world it was originally formed on january 12 1866 as the aeronautical society of great britain bearing in mind that in the time that society was formed the only way that uh man could travel through the air was by balloon and later airship and the idea of people traveling through the air for what was known then known as mechanical flying machines was a daydream um so the people who form society probably regarded almost as eccentrics and so on uh although it's over the over the 150 years or so past since the society was formed uh obviously we've uh gone leaps and bounds uh so to the extent that you could say they say somebody was born in 1900 um and lived to their mid-seventies they would have witnessed uh the early pioneering flights of the wright brothers uh seen the english channel crossed by blairio lived through two world wars and been around to see the last of the apollo missions to the moon so we've been a period of 75 years in the 20th century aviation and aerospace you know went to all directions and the society went with it so basically the society's library um dates back the origins of the society so for the very beginnings they always wanted books in the library to form a library and not just library material in the english language it was much material from all over so a lot of the early books that we had were in the french language he's recording the first annual reports and thereafter the society grew uh and we kicked on a royal charter in 1918 uh from george the fifth thereby became the royal aeronautical society so were the only royal institution in what's known as the engineering council and thereby the society has grown and it reflects the whole development of aviation literally from um students who are studying aeronautical aerospace engineering right through to captains of industry or head of leading aircraft manufacturers and the library covers everything that's associated with aviation aerospace anything that flies through the air from the outer atmosphere from one of the finest early ballooning collections of the world through to space probes in the distant planets and both so it could be both for atmospheric flight and flight through outer space and it's not just the kind of manufacturers how aircraft designed the aerodynamics the structures the materials the instrumentation avionics go on board technical side military operators of aircraft and then also you have other areas like um aviation law human factors aerospace medicine and so on so that's like studying the effects of traveling through the air on the piles and passenger and so on so that gives you an idea of the wide range of subjects we cover um and the library has to reflect all these and all these specialist interests that i described are often reflected in specialist groups within the royal national design so the societies aren't un unusual in the sense that it's a kind of multi-disciplinary society so we do cover everything from very technical people to people like studying air law or aviation medicine and also it's a nominated body of the engineering council which basically means that uh if anyone becomes can become like a chartered engineer or an incorporated engineer and so on through the royal aeronautical society so that's we basically have three roles as a learned society to as a professional engineering body and the third role is that we actually arrest the charity as well um so the library is one of the ace cars that society can play when it comes to what's called public benefits which means that uh you have to demonstrate that what you do is of benefits the wider populace and we the society does this in numerous ways one we have a very active um educational program uh and careers program from the cool aeronautics uh series of uh where they go out to schools and talk about aviation aerospace to young school children there's an online aviation video service educational programs and then we have the numerous kind of lectures and so on which in normal non-pandemic occurring around the world uh there's about like normally about 400 lectures we organized all around the world from different branches divisions that we have and then the library which is the largest kind of aeronautical aviation collection of its kind certainly in the uk won the world's major collections probably the oldest aeronautical collection in the world and in fact anyone uh from around the world can use it so it's not just restricted to members access anyone can literally use us uh either by personal visit phone email or letter inquiry where is the library base then the library the main library is based at farnborough which uh in hampshire which for many years was center of um aeronautical research and development in the uk it's where what was originally known as the balloon factory which became evolved into the royal aircraft actually revolted the royal aircraft establishment was based for many many years uh until it was welled up as effectively one while the um in the 1990s as well because conservative fangos uh those that the conservative party at the time believed were serving no purpose although there's actually a major aeronautical research institution and the library is actually on the side of one of the old ree buildings it's located in what was known as the uh space building and all these kind of what's left of the ree sites a lot of that was kind of the buildings have gone and demolished but there are a few that are listed because of their historical importance so the library is literally located right next to what's known as the 24-foot wind tunnel building which is rather appropriate because um the first wind tunnel in the world was developed in 1871 under the auspices of what was then the aeronautical society also the heritage state yes yeah so the within what is now known as pharma business park um there's which is basically on the site of the old ree which was you um in the center of business park you have the main farmer airport which was the old uh flying field it's now being developed was developed by the tag group into a leading business airport in europe and then around the airport you still have um major buildings like um headquarters of ba systems lockheed martin um flight safety international and so on uh and the libraries just literally on the other side of the airport in um a building called the hub and it's where we share offices with all kinds of other companies not necessarily related to aviation but the library has an extensive area on the ground floor of that building which accommodates the library in our clients do you find you have different users um that you get from on-site visits than you do from online visits well you know the the beauty of online is that um emails that people can email you enquires from all around the world and because the library is open to all to anyone you can use us we literally get all kinds of inquiries from people you know looking for a specific document or report to support their ongoing research either work-wise or private research they're doing a piece of aviation history to um we get get a lot of family history type inquiries for example they'll say your great uncle fred flew in the first world war the royal flying fall or people who might find an old uh membership specifically up in the loft and wondering why uh why was their relation father uncle or whatever a member of the aeronautical society or they might find they believe that he works in the aircraft industry some period do we have any records and so on so there's a lot of that kind of inquiries that go on um but yeah the inquiries can range from uh you know literally working on their own research they're researching about a particular individual they're interested in that they want to find a bit more some people like writing their memoirs and just want to find out more details about it but if you instantly recall but not in enough detail for it to go into prince or you get people we get quite a few people are researching books in the library and so on uh we have like a resident researcher peter reece who uh is now researching the fourth book um that he's you know he's using the library resources so he's there most days um so on so it really can vary um who uses the library that the variety of it the way the library can be used is one of the the attractions of it actually such a huge collection but also at the same time who there's only so much you can do for people um you know online but at the same time we try and um enhance that experience so in recent years we've done a whole series of digital projects where using today's technology we digitalize various parts of collections um so so that they can be shared online so people so we've got various ones of these ones these is the um they all start error so princeton posters is where we have now over 13 000 images online which uh people can view uh via the mary evans picture library website and that you know there's no compulsion to go by but if they want to buy a particular image either as a poster or a jigsaw or whatever or also want to commercially license act for a publication or a documentary then mary and the picture library handle all of those type inquiries but it's for us it's a way of shop window of showing all kinds of things we have in our collections that you started off with um over about 400 of our early ballooning lithographs of the 19th century uh and uh aviation posters in the 20s and 30s just mushroomed from there a thousand upon thousands of photographs from our collection that we've added the other website we have is another one is heritage held in the library are all kinds of key documents that will basically record the early stepping stones to fly from the original notebooks of george kaylin or kaylee uh undertook uh research into possibility of mechanical fire about 100 years from wright brothers so he was working in the early 1800s and he's if you look at any standard history of aviation babies regardless of aeronautics though katie's notebooks so one of the the milestones that you can view online via the website alongside the drawings of personal lauren's target hence the string fellow and so on um and you know it's a real kind of very key documents also which you know the beautiful thing where you can click on your detail view and you get the magnifying glass well you can really see something really sharp focus close up another website that we've done is error stroke podcast basically how that began was that in 1960 um the aeronautical society uh built a lecture theater uh up back of its headquarters where it still has at four hampton place just off just by high park corner uh and they got funding to build electric vehicles which they didn't have up to that time uh on the back of the building uh basically where park lane runs through um so uh and that was lecture field was opened in 1916 it's still used and they'll be more modernized theo the billboard lecture theater sponsorship and the historical group society uh was formed in 1959 so when the lecture builder opened in 1960 it was a relatively new group and they had the foresight to invite uh to speak to the society as many as the early pioneers of the early days um bearing in mind you're talking about 1950 about just almost like 50 years after the very first flight in this country and talk about their experiences and not only did they get them to speak um but they also had the foresight to make recordings of these on old magnetic uterine tapes or whatever and a few years ago we basically in 2017 um we launched the national airspace live sound archive we had funding to digitalize all these recordings as well we also was given a set of mp3 recordings of interviews with more modern test pilots that were presented to us by a member of the society who died a few years ago called rodney giesler and rodney was a volunteer for the imperial war museum and did interviews of people's experiences in war not really kind of on the military side but civilians and so on at the same time he also somehow got access to all these leading test pilots and he recorded extended interviews with them i mean these are not like 10 minute interviews these are interviews that go on for 45 minutes an hour hour and a half or whatever and so you have people like you know chuck yeager who was the first man to fly beyond the speed of sound in the bell x1 in 1947 and you know talking their own words of their experiences so i thought well there's an opportunity to create an archive by combining rodney's recordings with our own magnetic realtor real tapes which we had over 100 of these these recordings going back over the years and you got funding digitalized a whole lot and then we've gradually been putting them out um but before you put them out bearing in mind that these lectures were originally done to an audience say about 100 250 people now you have be able to share that recording with the whole world ideally you should try and track down the descendants uh if there are any of these speakers to make sure that they're um happy with um for what we're doing and so actually at the same time as putting these reporting down uh we've had a like understood a worldwide search um trying to track down the descendants of these people um and still work out like if your name's to track down but the good many we have found down uh found and uh you know the reactions we get from the relatives is really quite lovely you know one of them replied you know is so lucky to hear her father sounds so young again because bearing in mind these people often were recorded towards the end of their life um and um the year they might the other children might have never heard their fathers um talk about their early days and so on and so yeah that's been quite nice to do that and get so many positive feedbacks from around the world our latest um website launched just at the end of may 2020 this year and that's stroke movies mvis movies and that's where we put out uh are made available online a whole series of films that have not been seen for many many years basically uh we had over probably over 100 plus film canisters uh stored at london headquarters which have not been seen for probably 50 60 years some of them we knew roughly what they were there was a label on some cans a lot of them didn't have labels so it'd be like a lucky dip and there were various stages eight millimeters 35 millimeter cages so again we got funding to digitalize the collection and then i uh spent a long time going through all these films um deciding which ones were of interest historically and then once you've done that done that process then arranging the game going around the world trying to find permissions who who actually there are any to be sorted out from society and able to release these films so that game has been like a global search because probably as you know the aircraft industry has changed so much since these films are done so a lot of these companies never no longer exist and then you've got to track down who owns the nodes and so on so in the end you end up with like a uh you're ending up in contact with pocky martin boeing ko michelle you know swarsky film archives and so on and again um you know it's getting away we can uh you know put films out um and share our archives the rest of the world i mean the nicest one of those i think is a film that that you that is funny such as a short reader 20 minutes film uh black and white and when you look at it he just said at the beginning american transports prepared for donald w douglas um donald w douglas was one leading american aviation industrialist founder that was aircraft company and but when you look at the film there's hardly any douglas aircraft feature the tour which gets the second reel uh it's all about like uh who's who of aviation it's on at the time you know there's designs of fokker and lockheed and you know boeing and sikorsky and marketing why why stop just doing this why you and in ways prepare for donald trump it was like a private film and then i remember that in the library we had assisted a lady called julie felucci who was researching a biography of donald douglas and i contacted her and she contacted that contact the family and they had no knowledge of the films but then i remembered that what julie was pretty interested in was when douglas came to the society in 1935 to give what was then known as the wilbur wright lecture and then looking at the journal account at the time uh he says well they had a very distinguished gathering for the election which was held at the science museum the lecture didn't start till 9 15 um and because people out there had the banquet and douglas gave this lecture about your american airline the design and then at the end it says uh mr douglas dane showed a film and he describes they described the first frames of this film and i realized that what was being described was the very film that we had so in other words that this film had sat in london for over eight decades well over 80 years unwatched um and now it can be shared with the world so i i that's one of my kind of favorite stories about the collection in recent years it's just a way of like bringing these things back to life so you know that's all on top of the normal kind of online web-based catalog and so on that's amazing that's really nice that there's such personal touches in this library yeah well the library is is basically an amalgam of all kinds of collections over the years i mean the library itself um acquires books anyway new books coming out um and we do this uh it's a very unusual library in the sense that we you know i've never really had a budget all the years i work for society to buy books uh because the books we receive we get about 150 200 new books a year covering kind of avs and aerospace and all different areas like stuff and they've um sent to the society by publishers um as for reviews in our publications the society has two monthly publications a monthly journal called aerospace which goes out to all our members around the world as part of their subscription and a technical journal called the online journal which is since 2016 has been published in production with universal press and both of those publications have book review pages because the national the more practical and books on airline management safety operations get reviewed in aerospace more technical books on aerodynamic structures materials power plant design missile design whatever get reviewed in in the journal so you have two different sets of really two different sets of reviewers and a lot of my work was basically trying to arrange one get the books in the first place to arrange for somebody to to review a book uh and quite often some particularly with the journal one so the works i was so specialized it's obviously a handful of people who probably could review the book to to your satisfaction and like any things in life it's getting somebody had the knowledge time and enthusiasm to do the task often people had may have had the knowledge but they don't have necessarily at the time or they might have the knowledge and the time and not only have the enthusiasm so you've got to find somebody that's combination of all three which is not necessarily that easy in life so in addition to all the new books coming in um the libraries can continually receiving or being offered collections by individuals companies organizations um to find basic and although the national aerospace library um implies that we get some kind of government public money it's not that just a name that's created by one of our past chief executives when they moved the farmer of the place just over 10 years ago uh but it has been the library as such that society has been treated as an unofficial um depository uh for aviation material for many years and so if you the whole touch the library's amalgam of all different kinds of individual private collections uh they've been built over over the years and then literally whole collections have been presented to us to preserve them uh for the society so in the nigeria in the 1940s in particular there seemed to be quite a number of significant collections came to us i think it's possibly because so much have been lost during the world war ii um that people will for whatever's left we want to find a good home for it so during that period we material in the world and that covers not only um aeronautical books literally hundreds and hundreds of lithographic prints that were issued during the time and also fabrics from the earliest balloons uh all of which we've had you know restored in recent years the there was this george kelly notebooks put on permanent loan for the society for arcade family descendants we acquired the henson string fellow aerial steam carriage patents which you can see online at their heritage and so on um and yeah this is just some of the whole yeah we are aeronautical metals collection that was another one unusual collection of caterpillars at that time literally medallions that were issued from the very first blueing client the commemorative tokens and so on so it's not like a library of just books and journals and papers and technical reports but there's all kinds of manuscripts together over 110 letters from wilbur alvin this uh just catherine writes that were written to early members of society if you want to see the letters the societies were responsible letters earlier when society wrote the bright brothers um and it's you know there's a kind of myth that the wright brothers are quite secretive about about their things but they're quite open in the letters they raise society but if you want to see um the letters that members wrote to the rights you have to go to the library congress in washington we i think have the more interesting part of the correspondence we have the replies on the rights um and in 2003 we published that as a less as the wright brothers before the whole text of the letters so in conjunction with the centenary of the wright brothers fly to december 17 1903 uh and so you have light letters you have looming fabrics you have looney liver a great collection of airline posters of air shows and airlines 20s and 30s and you have recordings you have films so on so anything like aviates bounds of cigarette card albums anything that's still like an aviation theme or anything's being recorded in or flight then there's a good chance that you know we we have a representative of it in the library i do highly recommend checking out your website um there's lots of really nice art prints and stuff like that but actually my favorite was the um the george kayleigh um school daughter with his doodles oh yes yeah that's that's that's interesting um uh because basically as i say kaylee was the um first man really to study the possibility of a heavier their uh flying machine was it possible was bear in mind kaley was writing at the moment basically the demand for generations whether saturations to fly and you know um drawings are made and models were made man didn't really get the technology to fly until 1783 and that's by balloon the balloon was born in france and because of the um kind of concerns about what would happen to man if he started to fly through the air they had no idea they would he could not go bang explode pop they had no idea but the test aeronauts were not uh human beings they were animals so the first aeronauts were actually a cockerel sheep and a duck and because they went up in a montgomery balloon in 1783 and they came down and the animals were okay for okay for man to go up and then they uh but they didn't go mad so the first flights were um you know uh tempered fly and then you aerial flight first takes off really on november 21st 1783 and that's with the untethered balloon voyage of uh latitude and the marcus darland so and that was the first pilots and passenger to make an aerial voyage in human history and in our fabrics collection what we actually have is quite a large fabric from that original balloon um and so on and so when i used to do kind of like show and tell talks the people that brought that out and tell people well actually what you're looking at is kind of um older than the american constitution and three days the french revolution it's what made them sort of like stand back and realize that actually there was a piece of history there so kaylee was kind of writing uh he was based in yorkshire um because a bit likely i would call the benjamin franklin of his time like franklin who had various scientific interests and set up the literary society's libraries and printing up printing presses and so on but also had an interest in science uh katie was like the next generation but based in england he was an mp uh he was also interested in the safety of um he designed an artificial hand because he wanted his partner lost the hand so he designed this quite advanced prosthetic mechanical hand for him uh he was concerned about the number of people being lost at sea so he designed a self-fighting lifeboat he was also concerned about safety railroad carriages but what he's also best known is his aeronautics and in his own lifetime haley published very few papers uh journals and so on nicholson's journal yeah and uh these uh you know had a limited audience and but most of his work was carried on in his own kind of private kind of like workshop and the you but he what he was katie was looking at was basically trying to establish what if a machine could fly what would he need he worked out basically a vr dynamic shape and the propulsion system is a realization if you have to fly it up at some aerodynamic shape could you have a certain proportion to get the system to get it off the ground and once in the air to have certain control surfaces to keep it stable and stop it you know crashing down immediately and all this he did on his own work he just basically adapts to whirling arm which was originally designed and used by benjamin robbins in the 1640s for value of ballistics how projectiles move through the air okay we adapted that to basically looking at um say for example the wing shape what windshield would give the most maximum lift from flying machine and he did this by say studying a heron's wing and so if you look at the kali notebooks they're also online um you'll see there's one i think one volume is called c or or whatever you'll see that he basically he studies the heron's wing and then like davinci he steps back looks the anastasia of it looks at the shape of being and effectively creates uh like a curved shape which people today studying biophysical aerodynamics would recognize inherent concept and kaylee was doing this a hundred years say for the rise of doing their own experiences now the exercise book you mentioned that for years was like you know seen as a a bit of like a um a an accessory to the main notebooks uh but then the the last major biography of haley was written by a chat named his name was richard died d-y-d-e but unfortunately he died he did pass away a few years ago and he wrote down he shooting him with richard d for some reason but uh richard in his biography um basically identified that if you look at the dailies like school exercise book unlike any kind of work science book he's like yeah the doodles i mean there's all kinds of doodles over the cover but if you look closely there are literally early flying machines the kodi's doodle on there and that's haley's earliest representation of a flying machine so that's their significance and in 2017 the notebook uh that the the original kind of exercise book of katie was loaned to what was then known as the great exhibition of the north uh as part of the the major exhibition so this is displayed alongside a replica of one of these blinders that have been loaned from the yorkshire air museum amazing yes but check those out online it's great that you have those resources available for people who can't visit the site yeah i mean the idea is it's just to make everything available uh as much as you can and increasingly you know if we link all those into the web based catalog and we as we put them online so people can for example you know will type in um say imperial airways and not only will they see that we've got you know various obligations about imperial airways which was the main airline of the 1920s and 30s that connected the british empire uh to from all the way from uh yeah australia right across to europe and so on and down to africa uh is that you'll see not only we have their kind of their journal we have various books about imperial airways we have numerous photographs of their flying posts of hello and you'll see there's a link to the posters so one of my favorite posters that was issued for imperial airways around 1939 40 says to australia in 10 and a half days now it's and these are things that are put up on that underground or in travel offices and so on now today if you think australia in ten and a half days you think you know wow that's an awful long time but that was the selling point and because basically why are airlines called airliners and the reason why is that they were competing with ship liners those again something on the early imperial airways um poster says you know the greatest airliners in the world airlines is two separate words because they they're deliberately competing against the travel times of [ __ ] so to a trip down to australia we've taken several weeks and a half days and fine but then the other question people will say nowadays you've got ten half days that's a long time to spend in an aircraft you know these are obviously done in stages and so on and so one of the things that like again my favorite item collection that we have is that we have a very fine collection of timetables on the 20s and 30s now you've got to bear in mind that because of the cost of air travel at that time uh air travel was restricted to a certain privileged view of society only the very wealthy you are you could afford to fly and so you literally when you look at the photographs and the magazines you have like the girls of the time versus leading society figures film stars they're the only kind of people that afford to fly um not the general kind of general public so you have a privileged view of society defined in a quite a narrow noisy space traveling long distances and so what the airlines did is that the process was for example if you were traveling on imperial airways you would go to victoria railway station and there you get basically a handy little leaflet which explains that at the railway station not only you not on your luggage also yourself would be weighed and um and then he says in brackets you know the dial would only be seen by the future madam was a few pounds overweight i don't know what one thing the social etiquette was but you know there's obviously a procedure and then they'll get on the train and they'd go to uh down the croydon which at that time in the in the 2230 london fleeting airport and get on the plane there and as they were getting on the plane they'd be given a kind of route map of where they were going and again when they say one we have this wonderful imperial fruit map from um basically from cairo to egypt to australia australia and it falls out the length of a long table uh and so on pretty on both sides as you go along you see that they show very clearly a map of the route you're going to and also various things to look out for as you go along various archaeological site historical sites so although they have no um at that stage uh in-flight movies only very very beginning american airlines um you have no um in british one of them in flight entertainment so this is the way to keep the passengers entertained with the given things to look out for as they made their journey and just because nowadays like called people like golden age bear travel um because it was like it's all new it's all experimental and so on yeah not not quite romantic in their easyjet no no i mean i have to save people you know you won't get the you don't get these kind of freebies on on low-cost air travel today but you bear in mind you you're talking about a different a whole different class of society you could afford to travel you know but yes if you're missing your uh package holiday this year maybe you can check out the uh the aeronautical like uh website and see see the from the golden age of flying when everything was brand new and shiny yeah i mean on i mentioned earlier the douglas film which you can see on the movies if you go to the second reel that the part two of that um you'll see at the very beginning some wonderful footage of early sleeper cabins um in uh in the american airliners and then the dress they wore and so on the year and then their nightclue but also towards the end of that film they showed the first um they showed the first in-flight movie that was shown on it which is a wildlife film called babuna i mean it just gives you an idea of what it was like to travel at that time wow that's incredible um thank you for joining me today brian it's been really interesting hearing about the variety of mediums and and how far back your collection goes um i definitely i'm gonna have more of a poke around your website i mean the earliest book we have in the in the collection dates from about 1515 um these 15 17 so it's people people look basically looking at the stars you know how can we get up get the people looking at early flying models which today are very much involved with drove drones and you know unmanned aerial vehicles whizz around everywhere uh and then people looking at your early ideas of flight was it possible and then you and say literally about 1783 is which when you have it man takes off unless you have an explosion of aeronautical literature in all forms so the library has been literally recording all this from the very earliest days and as you say with technology it will continue to yes i mean that's the thing you know we're um it's it's a wonderful unique collection um one the finest collection of his kind in the world um and i think this is rather society is very lucky to have it yes absolutely yeah thank you for joining us today brian