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Rodney Noble (1921–1995)

by Chris Clark

This article was published:

Rodney Noble (1921–1995), air force officer, was born on 5 September 1921 at Randwick, Sydney, youngest of four children of Montague Alfred Noble, dentist and test cricketer, and his wife Elizabeth Ellen, née Ferguson, both Sydney-born. Rodney attended Randwick High and Sydney Grammar schools until 1939, before studying aeronautical engineering at the University of Sydney (BEng, 1944). Following the death of his father in 1940, a committee of friends was formed to finance the continuation of Rodney’s studies. He played first-grade cricket and rugby union and from December 1941 served for two months in the Sydney University Regiment. On 23 October 1943 he enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF)and began aircrew training.

Commissioned on 25 March 1944, Noble completed flying training in August and next month was promoted to flying officer. Until the end of World War II he tested aircraft at No. 1 Aircraft Performance Unit, Laverton, Victoria. Promoted to flight lieutenant in March 1946, he was demobilised on 18 July. He became a planning and performance engineer for Trans-Australia Airways, but on 11 March 1947 was commissioned in the Technical Branch of the RAAF with his former rank being confirmed in the Permanent Air Force on 23 September 1948. While employed on staff duties at Air Force Headquarters, Melbourne, he married Bette Lorraine Pedler on 25 November at Kew Presbyterian Church.

In July 1949 Noble was posted to the Aircraft Research and Development Unit at Laverton. Promoted to squadron leader in July 1952, he undertook the RAAF Staff College course in January 1954. In the following January he was promoted to officer-in-charge of No. 482 Maintenance Squadron at Amberley, Queensland. He won the respect of his engineering staff by always being first to fly aircraft on which maintenance had just been completed. In May he accompanied five Canberra bombers on a goodwill mission to Washington—the first time the RAAF had sent jet aircraft overseas, other than to New Zealand. On the return flight he remained in Honolulu, Hawaii, to supervise the dismantling of a Canberra that had been damaged in a crash landing.

Promoted to wing commander in January 1957, Noble served on the directing staff of the Staff College, where he was known for allowing students to divert discussion to cricket, his lifelong passion. He was posted to the Department of Air in April 1959, where he produced a report on the value of electronic data processing to the RAAF, particularly for managing aircraft maintenance. In May 1960 he became the senior engineering officer in the air attaché’s office at the Australian embassy, Washington. Following his return to Australia in October 1962, he undertook a period of staff duties at Support Command, Melbourne, until being appointed commanding officer of the RAAF School of Technical Training at Wagga Wagga, New South Wales, on 27 July 1964. From August 1966 he also took over temporary command of the Wagga base, with substantive promotion to group captain on 1 January 1967. The next year he attended the Imperial Defence College, London.

Returning to Australia in February 1969, Noble was posted as director of maintenance policy in the Department of Air, Canberra, then director-general of technical plans in January 1971 with promotion to air commodore. In 1973 he was made director-general of aircraft engineering, subsequently working on projects involving the introduction of Neptune maritime reconnaissance aircraft, new model C-130 Hercules transports, and the F/A-18 tactical fighters. Promoted to air vice marshal on 28 January 1975, he became controller of the service laboratories and trials division in the Department of Defence. Praised as an extremely capable officer with a long record of outstanding leadership and managerial skill, who excelled in his willingness to accept responsibility and make far-sighted decisions, Noble was appointed AO in January 1976. He was chief of air force technical services from 26 February 1979 until he left the RAAF on 4 September 1981 and was placed on the Retired List.

In retirement, Noble managed (1982–85) the Canberra office of the international electronics firm, Rockwell Collins (Australasia) Pty Ltd. He also chaired the Royal Aeronautical Society, Canberra branch (1982-84), then the Australian division (1991-93). Establishing his own engineering and management consultancy, in 1986 he became president of the Defence Manufacturers Association of Australia, as well as chairman of the Canberra division of the Institution of Engineers, Australia. A member of the Canberra and Royal Canberra Golf clubs, he was also a keen swimmer. While in Perth to visit family and watch the fifth Ashes cricket test he suffered a heart attack. He died on 4 February 1995 and, following a full military service, was cremated. Predeceased by his wife, known as Betty, he was survived by their daughter and two sons.

Research edited by Brian Wimborne

Select Bibliography

  • Canberra Times. ‘From Propellers to Jets and Missiles.’ 10 February 1995, 5
  • Coulthard-Clark, Chris. ‘Engineer Enjoyed Top-Flight Career.’ Australian, 14 February 1995, 15
  • Jacobs, John. Up and Away: Memoirs of a Pilot in the Royal Australian Air Force 1950–1981. Canberra: Air Power Studies Centre, 1999
  • National Archives of Australia. A12372, R/22173/H
  • National Archives of Australia. A12372, R/22173/P
  • National Archives of Australia. B884, Noble, Rodney
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘M. A. Noble’s Son.’ 29 June 1940, 16

Additional Resources

Citation details

Chris Clark, 'Noble, Rodney (1921–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2019, accessed online 18 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

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