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