is hard to think of aviation history and not include
the man who singlehandedly created the greatest and
most prolific stream of aviation-related books, recording
not only the history of several of the world’s
airlines but also the entire detailed story of commercial
To say that aviation history really starts and stops
with R.E.G. Davies is no overstatement.
But I so loved this guy
and could sit and talk to him for hours. He devotedly
cared for over 400 different books— books he treasured
and read and reread in his home in Virginia before cataloging
and carefully packing each one for me when he retired
and departed the U.S. for the UK.
So the following article
about Ron (as we called him) has put me at arm’s
length for the moment.
The “Why REG
Davies Matters” piece, written by Christopher
H. Sterling and Ron’s daughter, Jackie Scott Mandeville,
who have also collaborated to create a beautiful homage
to the great aviation historian, allows an in-depth
look at exactly what made Ron Davies the greatest aviation
historian and essayist in the history of the world.
For An Aviation Library
The new book by Sterling & Mandeville
titled Airlines: Charting Air Transport History with R.E.G. Davies
may sound a bit like a travelogue, but the content just jumps off the
pages. The authors trace a man and his airlines, covering so much of Ron
Davies written work and several unpublished manuscripts.
This is no vanity piece
either. No acres of “inside stuff” with
It is a glorious document
and a road map into the mind of the great Davies.
In point of fact, if you
have an aviation library or are starting one, this single
edition can be the foundation for your entire collection,
pointing the way and connecting the dots of air transport
history by the master of that form.
For All Seasons
Especially wonderful are
the essays that Ron wrote of things close to his heart,
including ‘There Will Never Be Another Pan Am.”
Also his personal account of his days working for the
great Sir Peter Masefield after the Second World War
in the UK Ministry of Civil Aviation in the chapter
“Lives That Dreams Are Made of.”
Davies moved from government
work, where he set up what has to be the first ever
Market Research Department in commercial aviation for
the U.K., to de Havilland Aircraft in 1959, to functioning
as the key component of Douglas Aircraft in Long Beach,
California, in 1968.
When Ron was invited in
1981 to sit in the first Lindbergh Chair of Aviation
History at the National Air and Space Museum (NASM )
in Washington, D.C., it marked a slam dunk for recorded
Davies was given the time and resources to create the
greatest record of commercial aviation, including the
aforementioned books on aviation and air transport history—more
than 25 in all—alongside hundreds of published
essays and studies.
The output of Ron Davies
began simply enough with a lovely effort titled A History
of the World Airlines published in 1964 while Ron was
still in the U.K. He said of that stellar work, simply:
“I decided there
ought to be books describing commercial aviation achievements,
not just about airplanes killing people, but there were
Perhaps my personal favorite
aspect of his work is the completely distinct and unique
chapter of Davies graphics that Ron would create in
In fact, until we met
and he moved into more airplane, people, and airport
graphics—partnering with Mike Machat in the epoch
airline series that included American, Delta, Lufthansa,
United, and a dozen more—Ron would often tell
a story and draw a chart about the topic.
His drawings were unique
and I often thought should be framed.
Here is a drawing Ron
created for us in 1987 when were tracking the 60th anniversary
of Charles Lindbergh’s post-1927 Trans Atlantic
flight activities, as the aviator travelled around the
world in his famed Lockheed Sirius during the “Jelling
Expedition” between July 9 and December 8, 1933.
That flight surveyed the
North Atlantic, examined weather conditions, and even
opened up talks for landing rights.
You can write a thousand
words (and Ron surely did) but this one hand drawn picture
tells the story at a glance of how key elements of the
world’s airline systems were born.
Perhaps even more interesting
was Ron’s view of railroads in 2011 that he discussed
on video here and thankfully included by Sterling and
After a lifetime of doing
battle between the airlines and railroads for the soul
of travel—a battle that found the airlines victorious
more than 60 years ago—the greatest aviation historian
of all time took a last look at transport on Page 250
by looking forward at rail versus air. The view is absolutely
fascinating, informative, and first-rate Ron Davies.
Ron always had the original
thoughts; the rest of us were just messengers.
At the very end, after
Ron retired from NASM but before he returned to the
U.K., we were drinking lagers and talking with Ron &
Chris Sterling at Ron’s place in Mclean, Virginia.
On a whim I took out my camera and recorded the videos
that you see here.
Ron had not lost a beat.
Shortly after arriving
home, on July 30, 2011, at 90 years of age, Ron unexpectedly
I often think about my
friend and am glad this final volume, Airlines,
was created. For generations new and old, it opens the
door to the great work and legacy of a man who blazed
a trail in recording commercial aviation history.