SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- The Airlift/Tanker Association honored Sir Alan Cobham as their 28th Hall of Fame inductee Oct. 5 as they held an unveiling ceremony of his bust now located in Scott Air Force Base’s “Walk of Fame” area.
“Sir Cobham had a way of seeing the future before it was there,” said Gen. Carlton D. Everhart II, Air Mobility Command commander. “He understood the limitations of flight and saw the value of air refueling before most of the world.”
Cobham was recognized as an aviation pioneer and a significant contributor to air mobility. Through his historic air refueling experiments, he earned his pilot wings with the Royal Air Force during World War I and became famous as a pioneer of long-distance aviation, setting many aviation records.
In 1921 he made a 5,000-mile air tour of Europe. From Nov. 16, 1925, to March 13, 1926, he made a trip from London to Cape Town and back. And in 1926, he set off on a flight from the River Medway in Britain to Australia. Upon his return he was awarded the Gold Medal by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. Following the war, he became the first aviator to successfully conduct a round-trip flight to India.
Retired Gen. Duncan McNabb, a former commander of AMC from 2005 to 2007, highlighted several of Cobham’s accomplishments that followed his military service and how they impacted the Air Force and air mobility.
He explained that “(Cobham was)” a true aviation pioneer who shaped our mobility world, especially our air refueling world.
“(Refueling) is the cornerstone behind our air forces mobility to provide global reach and global power for our nation and gives our country one of its greatest asymmetric advantages: the strategic ability to move.”
In 1930, Sir Alan was approached by Hessell Tiltman and Nevil Norway to invest in Airspeed, Limited. The following year he ordered two, 10 passenger, three engine biplanes, which were the first powered aircraft built by Airspeed. By 1933, Cobham tried in-flight refueling using a Handley Page W-10 bomber, lowering a hose to an AS-5 Courier. Although successful, the project was never put into practice.
“When others said aerial refueling was unnecessary, unfeasible, or unsafe, he overcame professional objectives and engineering obstacles and invented safe operational air refueling products and techniques. Today this capability is routinely used daily during thousands of missions worldwide,” he said.
In 1934 he founded Flight Refueling Limited, now known as Cobham PLC, one of the United Kingdom’s greatest aerospace companies, where he developed aerial refueling equipment. By 1939, FRL had perfected the looped hose system that was used to support 16 nonstop transatlantic mail missions.
“Sir Alan Cobham set the foundation for air refueling with the invention of ‘dangle and grab’ and altered the future of military operations with the creation of ‘probe and drogue.’ His vision for air refueling was vital to military victory in the Korean War and every single conflict since,” said McNabb.
In March 1949, four KC-29M tankers using FRL refueling equipment supported the first nonstop, around the world flight of a B-50 Bomber. In May 1952, KB-29 tankers refueled 12 F-84E fighters on the first combat mission to use aerial refueling.
The system that first saw use in 1949 was so far ahead of its time that it was put on every refueler that was built and flown for the majority of the next century. Cobham PLC played a key role in the development of air refueling and continues to blaze a trail into the future.
“The successful application of Sir Alan’s vision gave the U.S. military and coalition partners true global reach and the ability to deliver global power anywhere at any time. Just like all of our past hall of famers, Sir Alan Cobham is immensely worthy and adds to our spectacular legacy of excellence,” he said.
Greg Bagwell, a retired senior Royal Air Force commander, added that Cobham’s presence at the A/TA Walk of Fame is exactly where it’s meant to be.
“I actually walked down the Walk of Fame and on the back of A/TA’s airlift memorial stone there are three words: perseverance, sacrifice and courage. Sir Alan Cobham epitomized each and every one of those words ... just as each and every one who has ever followed,” he said.