10th July marks 100 days since the RAF's 100th birthday and will be celebrated by a Royal flypast over Buckingham Palace.
Cobham plc is the UK’s third-biggest defence company and enjoys both an incredibly close working relationship with the Royal Air Force and a shared, rich aviation history. The company was founded by, and takes its name from, the legendary aviation pioneer, Sir Alan Cobham. Sir Alan was both a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps during the Great War and an aviation pioneer who did so much to raise the profile of aviation between the wars.
When Sir Alan left the newly formed Royal Air Force at the end of the First World War he became a great advocate and pioneer for the potential commercial application of aviation. He embarked on a number of long-distance flights, including to India, South Africa and Australia. In 1926, he became the first person to fly from London to Cape Town and back, for which he received the Air Force Cross, and the first to fly from London to Australia and back, for which he was knighted by King George V.
“Sir Alan became a household name for his pioneering work,” says David Lockwood, CEO of Cobham PLC. “He did much to promote aviation to the masses with ‘Cobham’s Flying Circus’, an aircraft show that toured the UK, giving pleasure flights to thousands, which focused on the nation’s youth especially. He would certainly applaud and support RAF100’s aim today of promoting STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects and the aviation agenda among the younger generation.”
As part of his long-distance flying, Sir Alan was quick to recognise the potential of air-to-air refuelling. Even today, Cobham plc is synonymous with aerial refuelling, with its drogue systems flying on most of the world’s advanced tankers.
It is now a global company that has a diverse product line across aerospace, land, space and maritime domains, but Cobham continues to be – at its very heart – a defence and aerospace company. Its product line now includes a range of diverse items, including vital equipment for NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory Mission, sophisticated electronic assemblies for the EA-28G Growler, F-35 and UAVs and ground-penetrating radar to enhance counter-IED detecting. “Our emphasis on electronic warfare, radars and communications make us highly relevant in today’s contested and data-rich military environment,” says Lockwood.
Cobham now provides a range of high-specification products and systems that are used on multiple aircraft types throughout the world, in both the commercial and military sector. But as deep and diverse as its product line is, the most visible sign of Cobham’s work with the RAF today is in its world-class training support. Cobham’s Falcon aircraft provide invaluable electronic warfare training to both RAF and Royal Navy personnel, both at home and on deployed exercises. RAF aircrew train with Cobham every day, brief and debrief with them, and fly alongside them in some of the most complex and challenging scenarios. Cobham also provides electronic warfare training to NATO, the USAF and some customers in the Middle East.
For the past 20 years, Cobham has also provided the Ministry of Defence’s helicopter training at the Defence Helicopter Flying School at RAF Shawbury. Here, aircrew from all three services have benefited from the expertise that Cobham has provided both in the cockpit and in the maintenance hangars. Cobham provides helicopter services around the globe, but it is most proud of its support of the MoD for so many years. Cobham is now moving to a new era of international training provision at its newly opened helicopter academy at Newquay Airport in Cornwall. Here Cobham provides world-class specialist training in every helicopter skill necessary for today’s military and paramilitary or emergency services.
So, while Cobham is an international company with 10,000 employees worldwide including a major business in the United States, it maintains an exceptionally close relationship with the Royal Air Force. In addition to providing all manner of systems, services and support across the RAF, it has embraced and embodied the whole force approach, both at home and abroad. From Reaper to Sentry, Typhoon to F35, Cyprus to deployed exercises in Oman, Cobham has stood shoulder to shoulder with its RAF colleagues, delivering operational excellence at every turn.
“We fly and operate with the Royal Air Force on a daily basis,” says Lockwood. “But we also employ a high number of ex-military and RAF personnel that both retains and reinvests their expertise. We are signatories of the Armed Forces Covenant, and we are keen to expand and deepen our extremely close working relationship with the military and the RAF in particular. We actively recruit veterans, not least because they’re great people who do great things, but also, their experience is invaluable in some of the roles and services that we provide back. Also, we plan to increase our proportion of reservists so that we can cement even further our psychological contract with the service.”
Lockwood expects aerospace technology to continue to be vital to Britain’s security. “Air power is such an important arm of UK military power, and with aerospace being such a key part of the UK’s future prosperity and maintaining her technological edge, the partnership between the UK’s aerospace industry and the RAF is as vital today as it was in 1918,” he says. “As the RAF marks its centenary, Cobham is just a few years behind, but our history, heritage and future remain in lock step, as they have for the past 100 years. Cobham wishes the RAF and all her personnel our warmest congratulations on reaching such an important milestone, and looks forward to the next 100 years of pioneering and innovation.”