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 along with those making an impact around the globe.
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, 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. Lord Hinton, who had driven the UK’s supremacy in nuclear power, was appointed its first President.
1981 to 1986
The Fellowship started to promote engineering excellence in industry. New links with the Science and Engineering Research Council (SERC) enabled the Fellowship to influence research strategies and to develop its own activities
1991 to 1996
Sir William Barlow FREng set out to raise the Fellowship's profile and enhance its influence. In 1992, the Academy was granted a Royal title creating the Royal Academy of Engineering.
2001 to 2006
Lord Broers FREng HonFMedSci FRS was always mindful that the Academy had to reach out beyond the engineering community in order to engage with the public on engineering issues of key importance.
2011 to 2014
Sir John Parker GBE FREng initiated a new Academy strategy to change attitudes to engineering and to promote a modern industrial strategy, focused on key sectors where the UK already had expertise.
In its history, the Academy has had 10 presidents, including the current holder of the office, Sir Jim McDonald FREng FRSE, who was elected in 2019. Each President is elected by the Governing Council to serve a term of usually five years.
1976 to 1981: Lord Hinton of Bankside OM KBE FRS FEng
1981 to 1986: Viscount Caldecote KBE DSC DL FREng
1986 to 1991: Sir Denis Rooke OM CBE FREng FRS
1991 to 1996: Sir William Barlow FREng
1996 to 2001: Sir David Davies CBE FREng FRS
2001 to 2006: Lord Broers FREng HonFMedSci FRS
2006 to 2011: Lord Browne of Madingley FREng FRS
2011 to 2014: Sir John Parker GBE FREng
2014 to 2019: Dame Ann Dowling OM DBE FREng FRS
2019 to present: Sir Jim McDonald FREng FRSE