By Tony Royle in The Conversation.
Keith Lucas was killed instantly when his BE2 biplane collided with that of a colleague over Salisbury Plain on October 5, 1916. As a captain in the Royal Flying Corps, Lucas would have known that his death was a very real risk of the work he was doing in support of Britain’s war effort.
But Lucas wasn’t a career pilot, he was a physiologist, and a rather good one at that, having been elected a fellow of the prestigious scientific organisation the Royal Society in 1913. So what had enticed him from the relative safety of his laboratory in Cambridge into the air and, eventually, to his untimely end?
My attempt to fully understand the motivation and circumstances that conspired to put Lucas in that cockpit came as part of an ongoing study of an extraordinary set of aviation pioneers. Just over 100 years ago, a group of mathematicians and scientists were drawn to the Royal Aircraft Factory in Farnborough, Hampshire.
There, they plied their trade at the very heart of British attempts to drive forward fixed-wing, powered aeronautics during its genesis. But they soon realised that if they were to complete their mission they would need to learn how to fly themselves.
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