Conceived in the late 1960s, during the excitement of the Apollo programme and the buzz of Harold Wilson’s ‘white heat of technology’, the Royal Academy of Engineering was born in 1976, the year of Concorde’s first commercial flight. Since then it has continued to champion excellence in all fields of engineering and honoured the UK’s most distinguished engineers.
Initially called the Fellowship of Engineering, it had the enthusiastic backing of HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, who became its Senior Fellow. The new Fellowship met for the first time on 11 June 1976 at Buckingham Palace, where 130 of the UK’s finest engineers were enrolled – people who over the course of their careers had literally changed the world. Engineers like the jet engine visionary Sir Frank Whittle, design guru Sir Ove Arup, radar pioneer Sir George MacFarlane, bouncing bomb inventor Sir Barnes Wallis, Lord Hinton, who had driven the UK’s supremacy in nuclear power, and Sir Maurice Wilkes, father of the UK computer industry. There were also people who were yet to do their greatest work, like Sir Frederick Warner, who would lead the first international inspection team into Chernobyl after the catastrophic meltdown in 1986.