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Lawrence Hargrave

Lawrence Hargrave (1850 - 1915) was an engineer, explorer, astronomer, and aeronautical pioneer. Born in England, he emigrated to Australia with his family in 1865 and took on an engineering apprenticeship in Sydney. He worked as an engineer and assisted with exploration of the more remote parts of Australasia before taking up a post at the Sydney Observatory. He had been interested in experiments of all kinds from an early age, particularly those to do with flying machines, and when his father died and Hargrave came into his inheritance, he resigned from the observatory to concentrate on full-time research.

In an astonishingly productive career, Hargrave invented many devices, but never once applied for a patent on any of them: he did not need the money, and he was a passionate believer in scientific communication as a key to furthing progress. As he wrote in 1893:

"Workers must root out the idea that by keeping the results of their labors to themselves a fortune will be assured to them. Patent fees are so much wasted money. The flying machine of the future will not be born fully fledged and capable of a flight for 1000 miles or so. Like everything else it must be evolved gradually. The first difficulty is to get a thing that will fly at all. When this is made, a full description should be published as an aid to others. Excellence of design and workmanship will always defy competition."

Among many, three of Hargrave's inventions were particularly significant:

  • The curved aerofoil with a thicker leading edge.
  • The box kite, which greatly improved the lift to drag ratio of early gliders and provided the structural rigidity and aerdynamic stability that made aeroplanes possible.
  • The rotary engine, which was to power many early aircraft up until about 1920

Hargrave was devoted to his family, and when his son Geoffrey was killed at Gallipoli in May 1915 he was heartbroken, and died soon after hearing the news.

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