CAPT RALPH KOHN
I first met Ralph back in 1965 when I was a young man starting out in Aviation – fervently wishing to enter into the fraternity of flyers. I was in the throws of completing a Management Trainee programme, oriented around all elements of the operation of an Airline. During that time, one of my rotations within the organisation took me to the Traffic Department which covered all the responsibilities of the Tarmac Operations, aircraft turnarounds, supervision of loading baggage and passengers – what is known in UK parlance as a Redcap. It was during this time that I met Ralph – a Captain on the Britannia at that time - to my eyes a somewhat ‘god-like’ figure with stature. It was immediately apparent that Ralph had no pretensions about himself or his job, he was an enthusiast, for him flying was fun and with his effervescent personality he firstly charmed me by his openness and then further his interest in my ideas as to where I wished to further my career. All of us, when we are at the small beginnings of what we hope to achieve as a career, can only wish for someone like Ralph to take a personal interest. He encouraged me in my idea, kept my enthusiasm going when obstacles were put in my way and subsequently when he converted on to the BAC 1-11, invited me to travel on his flight deck and, as I had a PPL and R/T licence at that time, allowed me to do all the R/T calls from beginning to end of each flight. It was during this time that I came to know Ralph’s voice patterns, particularly on the R/T, his jovial Bonjour, Guten Tag and every language of the countries that we travelled over.
Where Ralph got his language skills from I don’t know, they were not restricted to the Hallo and Goodbye, maybe it came from his birth place – Alexandria in Egypt - where perhaps he was exposed to languages other than English. Ralph was educated at Victoria College (Alexandria) and later at Nottingham. He majored in Textiles prior to a career in aviation.
Ralph learnt to fly in 1950 while still at college, he served with RAFVR and progressed as a flying Instructor gaining his CPL in 1953. Two years later he landed a job as a F/O with Eagle Airways that subsequently became British Eagle. In 1960 he gained his command on Viking aircraft and progressed onto the Bristol Britannia and subsequently the BAC 1-11. The demise of British Eagle in 1968 must have been a considerable blow to him with a young family to support. He joined Dan-Air briefly before moving onto the British Aircraft Corporation, who produced the BAC 1-11 and joined other of his former British Eagle colleagues who had the same idea. He was part of the team as a Training Captain that went with the aircraft to whomever had bought them to train the pilots - to help them set up their operation. From tales I’ve heard, this was sometimes a precarious existence, not without risk.
In 1971 Ralph joined the UKCAA as a Flight Operations Inspector and worked with those other colleagues of ours in the Flight Operations Group – Paddy Carver, Maurice Knowles, Nick Butcher et al. During his time with the CAA he converted onto the B707, B747 and subsequently B747-400, and became part of the Civil Aviation Flying Unit at Stansted, under Paddy Carver’s management, where he was involved in Training UK Flight Examiners. Among the airlines he was responsible for was British Airways and he used to fly as Captain on these aforementioned aircraft. During this time he made the acquaintance of Chris White - then a Captain in BA – and they flew frequently together. They struck up a friendship – coincidentally Chris was also born in Alexandria so there was a common bond and the fact that they both started their aviation careers in the Independent Airlines - which continued over the years and resulted later with collaboration with the FOG document – So you want to be a Captain.
During this time, I had progressed in my career and achieved my aim of flying as an airline pilot – our paths didn’t cross until many years later at the occasional British Eagle reunion but I knew he was around - I heard him on the Airwaves with his distinctive voice, his Buon Giornos and the sound of the joy in his voice- he was flying. It was very comforting to hear his voice and I’d say a quiet thank you for his help and guidance many years before.
Ralph retired from the UKCAA in 1991 at the age of 60, too young, but those were the regulations in those days. At the time of his retirement he had flown some 16,500 hours of which over 11,000 were in command, a few thousand hours spent instructing, examining in simulators as well as evaluating and certifying them. After retiring from the CAA as a senior flight operations and training inspector he went on to help the Bermuda DCA as a principal inspector of flight operations. His task was to guide and direct the DCA during the setting up of the necessary regulatory infrastructure to satisfy ICAO, UK CAA and FAA norms for the supervision of aircraft operations within the Bermuda Aircraft Register jurisdiction. Other ‘overseas’ Regulatory Authorities were also helped on a consultancy basis to achieve a similar status.
In 1992 Ralph and a small group of similar pilot enthusiasts, some of whom are thankfully still around, set up the Flight Operations Group within the RAeS. Ralph became Chairman of the Group during 2003-2006 and handed over to Peter Moxham. His predecessors include Mike Russell – the first Chairman – Dick Hadlow, Hugh Field, Ron Macdonald, and subsequently Phil Smith and Maurice Knowles. The setting up of the FOG as a Group, by all accounts was not exactly smooth sailing, and significant hurdles had to be overcome and over the years there were occasional conflicts. We, who are members today, have to be thankful to those founders of the Group.
During the 20 years of his involvement with the FOG, he had been focal in the production of numerous documents as Publications Gateway – The Human Element in Airline Training, All weather Operations, So you want to be a Pilot, So you want to be a Captain in conjunction with Chris White, Smoke, Fire and Fumes in Transport Aircraft [SAFITA] and Aeroplane Upset Recovery Training. In 2004 he introduced the Out of the FOG [OOTF] articles in The Aerospace Professional and edited them for nearly ten years. These were the first articles that I looked for in each new journal. For me I liken this to the days of the old Flight International magazine where one started from the back – situations vacant unless perhaps you were with BA [!] - and then to the Roger Bacon column
Ralph was integral, with other members of the FOG, in getting the final review of the RAF Chinook accident that took place in June 1994. This resulted in the removal of the original pilot error judgement. As a consequence the Defence Secretary Liam Fox overturned the original ruling and apologised to the pilots’ families.
Ralph was totally focused when involved with a project. A man with humanity, whose guiding principal was to make Aviation a safer place, I believe in no small part, he achieved this.
He was a Fellow of the Society and Liveryman of GAPAN and was awarded the GAPAN Master Pilot certificate in 1978 and the FOG Silver Medal in 2009.
What a wonderful career. I valued him as a friend and colleague, he has left his heritage of which, if I could leave just a part of that which he achieved, I would be very proud. Aviation is a small but international community, our paths cross knowingly and more often unknowingly all over the world and at different times–I’m very happy that mine crossed knowingly with Ralph’s.
Capt Pete Terry
Chairman, RAeS Flight Operations Group