Dunne, John William 1875 - 1949

(1875-1949), aeroplane designer, writer on philosophy

Dunne was born (1875), and brought up in South Africa, at the age of six he had a serious accident which confined him to bed for three years. At seventeen he became a pupil on a farm. After serving with the imperial yeomanry in the South African War he became an aeronautical engineer, using his observation of seabirds in flight to design a revolutionary type of monoplane with swept-back wings. The War Office was sufficiently impressed to employ him, with a view to the production of a prototype, in 1906, but the model was not accepted.

Dunne is a fascinating figure who was one of the first two aeroplane designers employed at the Army Balloon Factory Farnborough (subsequently the Royal Aircraft Factory. (The other was the American S F Cody). His swept-wing tail-less automatically stable designs were original and were seen as an important defence innovation in the years before WW1.

Like Dunne’s aerodynamics, his philosophy was also unconventional and tried to reconcile psychic phenomena as well as pre-cognition, dreams and ‘deja-vu’ with emerging contemporary science, including relativity but also studies of psychoanalysis and the unconscious. In this, he was part of an interwar ‘para-scientific’ movement which tried to make sense of the new science in personal and psychological terms.

In 1927 Dunne published his book - 'An Experiment With Time' - it described a succession of his dreams over a thirty year period which seemed to show glimpses of the future and provided a theory of time to account for them. H. G. Wells found the book 'fantastically interesting' and it was praised in 'Nature' which might have been sceptical. ‘Dunne dreams’ became common colloquial usage for dreams foreshadowing future experiences. His ‘serialism’, however, the theory he provided to account for them, failed to convince scientists that it fused with the new physics. The book was revised and expanded in 1934 and remained in print for over half a century.

In 1928 Dunne married Cicely Marion Violet Joan they had one son and one daughter. Dunne died on 24th August 1949 in Tracey House Nursing Home, Banbury