Vol. 10 No. 74                       THE GLOBAL AIR CARGO PUBLICATION OF RECORD SINCE 2001              Monday August 1, 2011

REG (Ron) Davies—Curator Air Transport
National Air & Space Museum And Dean of Aviation History Dies

      Ron Davies, Curator of the Air Transport National Air & Space Museum, is pictured here in Air & Space Magazine, August 2011. Davies died in England on Saturday night at age 90.
     His legacy to aviation, captured in 25 books and other social efforts, are as pioneering and important in scope as many of the subjects he wrote about including Lindbergh, Earhart, Berlin Airlift and almost every major airline in the world, past and present.

     I have been sitting and looking at a picture of Charles Lindbergh, a picture that once served as the cover to a book he wrote about that first solo Atlantic flight between New York and Paris in 1927.
     My good friend and colleague for the past thirty plus years, the great Ronald Edward George (REG) Davies (Ron), died on Saturday, July 30, 2011 in Shaftesbury, England.
     He was 90-years old.
     Ron retired in February and returned to Shaftesbury after 30 years as Curator of Air Transport at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.
     He leaves behind his wife, Marjorie, two daughters, Jackie and Annette and two grandsons.
     I first met Ron whilst researching my book on the history of Newark Airport. At that time, he sat in the Lindbergh Chair at NASM.
     Ron was the inside guy with all the historic information and I was an airport air cargo type who loved the history of all of it. We hit it off at once.
     After that first encounter, every time I saw him it was the same thing – we would talk for hours about all manner of aviation history, unaware of anything or anyone else in the room, so intense were those conversations.
     For us, Time truly stood still. Perhaps it did so as a favor, for it was in those moments that we could further examine history and pick its pockets of all the information collected as it snowballed through the years.
     H.G. Wells was spot-on when he wrote that “there is no difference between Time and any of the three dimensions of Space except that our consciousness moves along it.”
     Ron was like a time machine whose trip was always airborne, aviation bound.
     The last talking session we had was inside his apartment in McLean, Virginia; his good friend Chris Sterling and my wife Sabiha were also present.
     All through that day, from our luncheon right into cocktail hour, which included some crisps and a couple of cans of British lager from the Davies' fridge, both Chris & Sabiha were sidelined, the unwitting victims of Ron and my ability to prattle on about aviation.
     Ron was packing his boxes to return to the UK to care for his ailing wife, Marjorie.
     I had the feeling that leaving NASM was the last thing he wanted to do, as he was still quite robust and totally engaged in putting the finishing touches on his 25th book for Smithsonian.
     But his love and devotion for his bride of 63 years held sway.
     “Marjorie was my love throughout every experience of my life.
     “It’s time to get home and look after her,” he said quietly.
     It was during that conversation that he gave me an entire personal collection of his most favorite books, some 450 in all.
     Ron’s last words to me were naturally about what he thought was going to happen in future commercial transport.
     “The wide-body ‘jumbo’ jets were twice as big as the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8.
     “The same general principal still applies, even though the 500-seat A380 is only half as big again as the Boeing 747. The Boeing 787 will be a good replacement for the Boeing 767 or the Airbus A330, and good for domestic routes, but it will not be a major element globally.
     “Statistics show that 75 percent of the world’s international traffic is served by only 25 major airports.
     “The A380 will meet the traffic demand for this 75 percent, and it has no competitor in the same class. Five airlines are currently operating more than 40 A380s, and this will rise to close to 100 by the end of 2012.
    “The 787 Dreamliner will be left to cope with the remaining 25 percent.
     “Today, airliners remain in service for 30 years or more. The A380 will reach the half life point at around the year 2020.
     “Already, a French airline has ordered two 820-seat all-economy A380s.
     “There is also talk of a stretched A380,” Ron Davies said.
     Recently, Ron spoke to Air & Space Magazine about his career:
     “I have been able to visit all seven continents, including Antarctica, fly around the world, and cross the Seven Seas many times.
     “Through airline contacts I interviewed pioneers and leaders of the airline industry worldwide.
     “I sank many a beer with chairmen of the U.S. local service industry, sipped cappuccinos with the great Ruben Berta in Brazil, and—possibly my most treasured memory—was invited to take tea with India’s legendary J.R.D. Tata in his suite at the Ashoka Hotel in Delhi in the early 1970s.”
     REG Davies was educated at Shaftesbury Grammar School. He started work in London in 1938 and was in the British Army as a territorial volunteer from 1939 to 1946.
     He spent a year in Iceland, training for mountain and Arctic warfare, and drove his machine-gun carrier on to the beaches of Normandy in 1944.
     After WWII, Ron worked for the Ministry of Civil Aviation, British European Airways, the Bristol Aeroplane Company and de Havilland before moving to the United States in 1968 to lead market research for Douglas Aircraft.
     In 1981 he joined the National Air and Space Museum as the Charles A. Lindbergh Chair in Aerospace History.
     Davies was a member of three British Royal Societies, the Explorers Club, and others in France and Brazil.
     He also delivered the Wings Club Thirty Seventh “Sight Lecture” (Hindsight, Insight, Foresight) in 2000.
     Worth noting is that past Sight Lectures had been presented by Igor Sikorsky, Werner Von Braun, Grover Loening, CR Smith, Juan Trippe, Richard Jackson, Neil Armstrong, Al Ueltschi, Sanford McDonnell—the list goes on.
     His last book, Airlines of the Jet Age (for the Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press), has just been published (July 2011).
     His friend, Christopher H. Sterling, Associate Dean for Special Projects Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, George Washington University remembers:
     “I had the great pleasure of being a friend of Ron Davies for most of the three decades he lived and worked in Washington.
     “To know the doyen of world air transport history was both a treat and an honor for me, as few are lucky enough to learn from a true giant (though I can feel his red pen poised to edit these very words).
     “He played a big part in our family’s life, especially of our elder daughter who helped him produce many of his books.
     “I have especially warm memories of afternoon tea, biscuits and good conversation over the years (and not all of it about airplanes!).
     “His productivity was a model for all of us who write—as was his good cheer and quick wit, perseverance, and his willingness to help and mentor others over the years.
     “For what Ron accomplished in his long life was and remains huge--vastly more than most ever achieve.
     “From his research and travels over more than six decades, he developed a uniquely important record of the world’s airlines.
     “And because Ron recorded much of what he learned in his 25 books published since 1964 (the last appearing only days before he died), true appreciation of all that he accomplished will last around the world for a very long time . . . as will the degree to which we deeply miss the man behind those books.”
     Ron’s longtime friend, legendary airline buff and fellow member of The Washington Airline Society, Daniel Kusrow, recalled:
     “I knew Ron for over 16 years.
     “I first met him through the Washington Airline Society.
     “He was always very gracious and encouraging in my air transport history researches.
     “His office at NASM was like a mini museum for airlines.
     “On one entire wall were all his individual airline research binders, another wall held file drawers filled with filed vintage airline timetables, his primary source material.
     “Each airline got a binder with meticulous hand written notes, hand drawn maps and charts and diagrams.
     “Plus there were letters Ron had written to the executives of the airlines and their replies.
     “It seemed like every airline executive or CEO had time to write a reply to Ron; these people respected him and their doors were always open to him.
     “He loved jazz and actually ghost wrote a book on its history, which was published in the UK in the early 1950s.
     “I recently picked up a copy of it, just a little paperback thing.
     “As soon as I opened it, I saw Ron’s Maps and timelines for the history of Jazz – classic Ron.
     “We would all become quite familiar with this format in his later 25 books on commercial air transport history.
     “The last time I saw Ron Davies was the evening of March 30th, 2011, at the National Air and Space Museum.
     “I had taken his beloved Acela Express (train) down from New York, and due to power issues at the Museum, we were forced to hold the final part of our meeting of the Washington Airline Society in the main Milestones of Flight Gallery.
     “We were all standing in a circle around Ron, and he was going on about the hard sell it was for Douglas of the DC-10 to JAT of Yugoslavia in the early 1970s, and how he had to ride the Orient Express out there to help close the deal.”
     Recently, REG Davies, the great air transport curator, had been talking about the railroads.
     Ron loved rail and in the 21st Century saw great promise in the tracks, especially in USA.
     We have his story “High Speed Rail Air Transports 21st Century Competitor” and will publish it here in September, along with a video we created in McLean.
     Once upon a time, Ron & I (pictured in April 1997) cooked up an idea to write some small, inexpensive books together.
     It was right after we did “International Airports”- a television documentary that is still being aired on The History Channel.
     He would write the text and draw the maps and I would research and select all the pictures.
     “We will draw on our strengths and create some books that the children of the next generation will notice,” Ron said.
     Well, Ron went on to create several books with artist Mike Machat about the airlines - Lufthansa, Delta and lots of others.
     I did my airport books and a couple of inexpensive high volume efforts for KLM, American and Miami air cargo.
     Creatively, I guess we traveled in parallel, like two aircraft gliding over the darkened Atlantic, passing the familiar in different cities.
      Ron Davies was the greatest and most prolific aviation historian that ever lived.
     His work is impeccable, full of thorough research and beautiful presentation.
     His writings are colorful and rich in detail and humor.
     You can compare his books and years of service in terms of content to the way Joe DiMaggio played baseball, Winston Churchill gave a speech or Elvis sang a song.
     Ron’s 1964 book A History of the World’s Airlines is simply the best on the subject; in importance and as a touchstone for the industry, it mirrors the likes of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.
     It is a cornerstone of any aviation library and such a work of art that it gives me the chills just to think about it.
     The book is still in print, so if you don’t have it, get a copy, and if you don’t agree with my rave, mail it to me and I’ll buy it from you.
     I wrote to Ron a couple of weeks ago and had hoped to hear back.
     Ron was a snail mail contact, so I’ll be watching for the postman while remembering this wonderful, sweet guy.
     The Lindbergh book cover is still staring out at me.
     Ron as a chronicler, conservationist, author and historian was self taught and made, just like almost all of those early pioneer pilots.
     He leaves behind an immense body of work that is expert, yet accessible, expansive, yet exquisitely detailed.
     We will not see his kind again.
     Happy landings, Ron.


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