The most important thing we build is trust


About Cobham

The most important thing we build is trust.

Cobham is a leading global technology and services innovator, respected for providing solutions to the most challenging problems, from deep space to the depths of the ocean.


We employ more than 12,000 people on five continents, and have customers and partners in over 100 countries, with market leading positions in: wireless, audio, video and data communications, including satellite communications; defence electronics; air-to-air refuelling; aviation services; life support and mission equipment.


Founded in 1934 as Flight Refuelling Ltd, the company has developed over 80 years into the international technology company that it has today, Cobham plc.



Cobham the Man

Sir Alan Cobham, born in 1894, was an aviation adventurer, explorer and pioneer. Rising to prominence at a pivotal point in history, he proved the role of aeroplanes as champions of travel, laying the foundations to transform this mode of transport into an efficient and effective form of transportation.


He founding Flight Refuelling Ltd in 1934; the company has developed over 80 years into the international technology company that it has today, Cobham plc.


Early years

Alan Cobham's first taste of 'the air' was through the modest past-time of buying and flying kites on Streatham Common in London. Following a visit to Brooklands to see an air display, his love for aviation developed further.


Come the outbreak of World War One, Alan Cobham volunteered to join the Royal Air Force. Initially working as an Assistant Veterinary Sergeant, Cobham applied to join the Royal Flying Corps in 1917. In July 1918, then Second Lieutenant Cobham became a Royal Air Force Flying Instructor, and his passion for aviation developed.


The Early Life


Pioneering with a purpose

After winning the Kings Cup Air Race in 1924, Alan Cobham's reputation as an aviation pioneer grew steadily. His dream of aeroplanes being an efficient and effective mode of transport was further realised with a number of adventures; from carrying wealthy patrons over Europe and the Middle East, to route proving around India, Burma and Africa. Alan Cobham was proving the benefits of flight as a chosen mode of transport.


Sir Alan Cobham's route around Africa


Having spent 18 months flying from South Africa and Australia in 1926, Alan Cobham's return trip to London was greeted by crowds of over a million, outside of the Houses of Parliament. Landing on the River Thames, he was later awarded a knighthood by King George V.


Cobham the man - achievements 3



From 1932, Sir Alan Cobham spread the "thrills and spills" of aviation to over 1,000 locations in the form of 'Cobham's Flying Circus'. An adventurous show, it displayed aeronautical acrobatics from the sedate to the fast and furious, turning Sir Alan Cobham into a household name.


Cobham the man - early years 2



By the mid-1930's, Sir Alan Cobham's instinct told him that touring air shows had largely run its course. Focussing on an unused aspect of aviation, Sir Alan Cobham formed Flight Refuelling Ltd on 29 October, 1934 to focus his efforts on air refuelling and its wider application.

Sir Alan Cobham's Achievements


Sir Alan's Cobham's achievements covered a wide spectrum within the aviation industry.


From winning the Kings Cup Air Race in 1924, carrying out the first flight to and from South Africa in 1925, undertaking route proving around Africa and the African lakes in 1928 and 1931, to supporting the Berlin Airlift in 1948.


Cobham the man - acheivements


His knighthood in 1926 was a crowning moment in the recognition of his pioneering and innovative insight into the future possibilities of aviation, aptly recognising the contributions he had, at this point in his life, achieved.


In 1934, Sir Alan Cobham's efforts led to the first non-stop crossings of the Atlantic. However it wasn't until the post war adoption of air refuelling by the United States Air Force, and the company's invention of the probe and drogue method in 1949, that the full potential of aerial refuelling was realised.


Cobham the man - pioneering with a purpose 2



Yet it wasn't until 1982, with the successful 'Black Buck' Operation, that Sir Alan Cobham's innovative aerial refuelling come under real test. Launched centre stage of the Falkland's War, Cobham's equipment sucessfully transported the attacking Vulcan a round trip of 7,800 miles to the Falkland Islands via 18 refuelling contacts. Only achievable using the innovative equipment established by Sir Alan Cobham's company, this landmark moment in history helped position the company as a world leader in fuel system design and component manufacture.


Sir Alan Cobham died on 21 October 1973. Today his legacy lives on; Cobham plc is the result of 80 years of development since Sir Alan Cobham's founding of Flight Refuelling Ltd in 1934.


Cobham The Company

While air-to-air refuelling provided the foundation of the company, Cobham diversified its portfolio in light of market conditions, applying its innovation for technology to other applications.


Uncertain times

The early 1950s saw Cobham facing an uncertain future. With additional sources of funding required, it was decided in 1954 that Flight Refuelling Ltd should 'go public' and that FR Holdings Ltd would be formed, becoming the first 'parent company'. With Sir Alan Cobham's son, Michael, leading the company, the company went from strength to strength.

A new direction

With Sir Alan Cobham's son, Michael, appointed as Chief Executive of Flight Refuelling Ltd in 1963, the company started to evolve. While the aerial refuelling capability was growing throughout the 1960s, Michael Cobham wanted to prepare a more strategic development plan of both organic and inorganic growth for the company.


First acquisition 2With this in mind, Michael Cobham saw the opportunity for Cobham with the arrival of the supersonic Concorde. The 1960s saw the Concorde aircraft capture the world's prestige air routes. With Flight Refuelling Ltd well placed to supply key fuel system equipment, the company made its first strategic move in acquiring the Saunders Valve Company's Aviation Division in 1968. This enabled it to meet Concorde's stringent technical specifications, setting the path for a more strategic evolution of the company going forward.



Air-to-air refuelling takes off

Despite Sir Alan Cobham's efforts, it wasn't until the Falkland's War in 1982, which highlighted the RAF's need for strategic airlift capability, that air-to-air refuelling applicability in global warfare was realised. This led to the purchase of nine ex-airline Lockheed L1011 Tri-Star's for conversion to tanker-transport aircraft. Two Cobham systems were installed in each aircraft with the first entering service in March, 1986.

 Cobham the company - Developing AAR - 3rd para


Only two years later, in 1988, Cobham pods were being tested on KC-10 tanker aircraft for use by the US Air Force, after having won a contract for 60 shipsets.


These tests also resulted in lengthened receiver hoses, from 50 to 75 feet, to ensure clearance with the tanker's tail unit.


Sir Alan Cobham's dream, of a wider application for the use of aerial refuelling, was truly realised.


Now in its fifth generation, countless countries have adopted Sir Alan Cobham's aerial refuelling technology including America, Great Britain, France, Sweden, Malaysia and many more.


The evolution towards Cobham plc

Cobham the company - the evo towards cobham plc - first para

In the late 1980s, with a focus on advances in technology, Michael led the company in laying the foundations for the electronic capabilities that it has today; building its critical technologies, skills and routes to market and customers.


Cobham progressively added capabilities to its growing portfolio, including microwave electronics, radomes, antennas and radio, and moved further into the satellite and mobile communications market.


It wasn't until Michael's retirement in 1994 that FR Holdings Ltd then developed into the company known today, Cobham plc.



New capabilities

Having successfully positioned itself as an innovative technology company, with a bright future, Cobham continued to expand its horizons.


The company's entry in to the field of flight operations in 1982 was the first time the UK Ministry of Defence had contracted a civil operator to perform what had, until then, been a purely military role. Cobham Aviation Services, now an expansive Sector within Cobham's portfolio, began as the Airfield Division of Flight Refuelling, towing a banner target on behalf of the Royal Navy gunnery school. Now, this portion of the business delivers aviation services for commercial, government and defence customers worldwide, through airborne special mission operations, outsourced commercial aviation, military training, aircraft engineering, flight inspection and air traffic services.


new capabilities


With the continual development of technology and connectivity, communications and connectivity is a big part of what Cobham does today; fifth generation wireless technologies are in development, the ability to intelligently navigate wireless signals around buildings based on user demand, development of the world's smallest HD video transmitter, playing a part in the first demonstration flight of an unmanned aircraft in UK airspace utilising unmanned air-to-air refuelling capabilities, provision of remote location broadcast equipment in harsh and rough environments; Cobham's capabilities are extensive.


Cobham now protects lives and livelihoods with its differentiated technology and know-how across commercial, defence and security markets, from deep space to the depths of the ocean, specialising in meeting the growing demand for data, connectivity and bandwidth.




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