Physics in Perspective

, Volume 14, Issue 1, pp 4–32 | Cite as

George Hartley Bryan, Ludwig Boltzmann, and the Stability of Flight

  • T. James M. Boyd


A century ago, George Hartley Bryan (1864–1928) published his classic book, Stability in Aviation. I draw together some strands from events that awakened his interest in the nascent science of aviation, in particular the stability of flight. Prominent among those who influenced him was Ludwig Boltzmann (1844–1906), who held Bryan in high esteem for his contributions to thermodynamics and kinetic theory. I argue that the seeds of Bryan’s interest in aviation were sown at the British Association meeting at Oxford in the summer of 1894, at which Boltzmann was guest of honor. A joint discussion between Section A (Mathematical and Physical Science) and Section G (Mechanical Science) was devoted to the problems of flight, during the course of which Boltzmann revealed a hitherto unsuspected enthusiasm for flying.


George Hartley Bryan Ludwig Boltzmann Friedrich Ahlborn Samuel H. Burbury Edward Teshmaker Busk Octave Chanute Rudolf Clausius Edward P. Culverwell Albert Einstein George Francis FitzGerald Edgar Henry Harper Harold Hilton Lord Kelvin Samuel Pierpont Langley Frederick William Lanchester Joseph Larmor Otto Lilienthal Oliver Lodge Hiram S. Maxim Max Planck Lord Rayleigh Arnold Sommerfeld William Ellis Williams Wilbur Wright University of Cambridge Trinity College, Dublin University College of North Wales British Association for the Advancement of Science National Physical Laboratory Royal Institution of Great Britain thermodynamics kinetic theory H-theorem aviation aerodynamics stability in flight history of physics 



I am particularly indebted to Roger H. Stuewer for his many helpful suggestions and for providing a number of photographs and additional references. I am grateful for the access I have been given by the Archives Section of the University Library at Bangor to records of the Minutes of the Court of Governors; to Frank James of the Royal Institution for sending me a copy of Bryan’s 1901 paper in the Proceedings of the Royal Institution; to Michael Miller, Archives Division of the American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia, for providing me with copies of the Bryan-Sommerfeld correspondence; to the Royal Dublin Society for access to their Archive of George Francis FitzGerald’s correspondence; to Ms. Catriona Mulcahy for providing me with information on Edgar Henry Harper, and to Professor Boye Ahlborn, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, for providing me with details of early work on the stability of flight by his grandfather, Professor Friedrich Ahlborn.


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Copyright information

© Springer Basel AG 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for PhysicsUniversity of EssexColchesterUK

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