"Many people have exploited a
good idea, but not many people live to see it develop into a
lasting success. Alan Cobham championed the idea of refuelling
aircraft in the air, and started Flight Refuelling Limited in 1934.
The Company has prospered for over 75 years, to become Cobham plc,
which today is a major international aerospace and defence
engineering company." - HRH The Duke of Edinburgh,
Cobham plc's origins go back to 1934 when Sir Alan Cobham
founded Flight Refuelling Limited (FRL) to investigate Air-to-Air
refuelling (AAR) techniques.
Cobham, an innovative aviation pioneer, worked tirelessly to
make flying popular with his own personal dream that "one day there
would be a landing ground in every major town". More than 75 years
later, with airports commonplace, the pioneering spirit continues
with Cobham producing world leading products and solutions for the
aerospace and defence industry.
Cobham The Man 1894-1934
Ascent by balloon and gliding were the most common forms of
flight when Alan Cobham was born in late Victorian London. By the
time he died supersonic travel was an everyday event and man had
walked on the moon.
Cobham was destined to become a highly influential figure in
British aviation, participating in what could be termed one of the
most pivotal periods of technology development in history.
Serving in the First World War, Cobham saw the potential for
aviation as a mode of transport and transferred to the Royal Flying
Corps, finishing the war as an instructor. After the war he gained
international recognition and a knighthood with a series of
trail-blazing long-distance flights and the creation of his 'Flying
Cobham The Company 1934-1985
During the 1920s and early 1930s, air refuelling was only used
to assist in setting flight endurance records. The formation of
Flight Refuelling Ltd on October 29 1934 allowed serious
consideration to be given to its wider application. This led, in
1939, to non-stop crossings of the Atlantic, but it was not until
the post-war adoption of air refuelling by the United States Air
Force and, in 1949, the company's invention of the probe and drogue
method of contact, that its full potential was realised.
Cobham's organisation, having established itself as a world
leader in fuel system design and component manufacture, then
exercised a policy of internal growth and gradual acquisition.
As an airframe maintainer and operator, the company was also
able to diversify in to maintaining military aircraft on behalf of
the Royal Air Force, modifying aircraft for specialist roles even
in to design and production of target airframes and Unmanned Aerial
With continuous development of the probe and drogue refuelling
system, Cobham's equipment was to prove of fundamental importance
in the defence of both the United Kingdom and the United States
throughout the Cold War and beyond.
New Horizons 1985-2009
By the late 1980s the massive United States market held great
untapped potential for Cobham. This inspired an acquisition phase
in the US and beyond that is still fundamental to the Group's
Cobham developed a commanding capability in the emerging network
centric battlefield, essentially focusing on moving data between
intelligent, sophisticated sensors and decision makers. This part
of the business has grown to include microwave components and
subsystems that now serve at the heart of radar and electronic
warning systems, communications and self defence for the world's
military aircraft, ships and military vehicles.
Cobham next turned its attention to acquisitions in the related
field of avionics. The portfolio grew further with a move into
safety and survival systems, often serving those already employing
the Group's communication equipment. Through this market Cobham is
now involved in the space programs of Europe and the United States
and worldwide search and rescue.
The air-to-air refuelling and weapons carriage and release
capabilities of the Group went from strength to strength, and
Cobham has gone on to establish an international reputation for
modifying, maintaining and operating aircraft in special mission
roles, as well as specialist training for the military.