Following its first meeting, convened by Senior Fellow HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, on 11 June 1976 at Buckingham Palace, the Fellowship set out to demonstrate its interdisciplinary expertise. Under its first President, Lord Hinton of Bankside OM KBE FRS FEng, learned society activities began when the Fellowship held its first soirée in 1977 'to illustrate the best in British engineering', and founded its Distinction lecture series – later known as the Hinton Lectures. Good relations were fostered with the Royal Society and working groups were set up on subjects such as the education of engineers and technicians in relation to materials, which became the first Fellowship publication in May 1978.
From the start, Fellowship reports aimed to show that best engineering practice depends not just on innovative technology but on safe procedures, reliability and reducing environmental impact – a 1981 report examined ways to reduce lead in the environment. By 1979 the Fellowship's interdisciplinary expertise was being recognised within government and the Department of Industry asked it to advise on ways of improving manufacturing performance.
The Fellowship also began to establish international discussions with engineering academies overseas, as a founder member of what was to become the Council of Academies of Engineering and Technological Sciences (CAETS) in 1978.
After some difficulties in the very early days, the Fellowship was becoming more financially secure, after an appeal raised almost £1 million. It started to expand its activities, taking on the annual MacRobert Award for excellence in engineering innovation, originally run by the Council of Engineering Institutions (CEI).
Reflections of a Founder Fellow
Professor John Caldwell OBE FREng was one of the Founder Fellows of the Royal Academy of Engineering, who attended the inaugural meeting in June 1976.
He recently met with the Academy's Royal Fellow, HRH The Princess Royal, to discuss his memories of the Academy's founding. He also reflected on his career in naval architecture, and the contributions of the Princess Royal's late father, HRH Prince Philip, the Academy's Senior Fellow.