Air Chief Marshall Sir Christopher Moran: Second-in-command of the Royal Air Force

The sudden death of Sir Christopher Moran, who collapsed while taking part in a triathlon at the age of 54, means the RAF has lost an officer who looked destined to lead the force. As Commander in Chief Headquarters Air Command, he was the RAF's second most senior officer. He was widely tipped to become Chief of the Air Staff, having risen steadily through the ranks since winning his wings in 1978.

In his varied career he first flew Harrier jets and then had spells with NATO and in the US. He served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia and in many other parts of the world. The Harrier was one of the loves of his professional life: he flew the plane and instructed others on how to fly it. It even provided him with a nickname, Boggy, after his craft once slid off a runway and into a bog as he made a landing.

While he no doubt accumulated the standard quota of rivals and adversaries as he rose through the ranks, colleagues spoke highly of him. One contributor to an internet blog for airmen wrote: "Good to know that the good guys can reach the top without having to tread on other people's heads on the way."

Another added: "I flew with him, he flew with me - none finer, a true bona mate - RIP Boggy, we loved ya."

Born in 1956 in Urmston, Manchester, Christopher Hugh Moran attended Bishop Ullathorne School in Coventry. He later went to the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, or Umist, where he gained a degree in mechanical engineering. In later life he went on to take an MA at King's College, London.

At university he had an RAF university cadetship, later training as a pilot at RAF College Cranwell. Following training he was posted to fly the Harrier in Germany, Belize and the Falklands, as well as flying sorties from the carrier HMS Illustrious. He just missed hostilities in the Falklands, arriving weeks after the Argentine surrender.

In 1985 he was posted on exchange duties with the United States Marine Corps at Cherry Point air station in North Carolina.

After two years he returned to RAF Wittering to become a flight commander on the Harrier Operational Conversion Unit. It was the base he used to visit as a youth to admire the Harriers.

Promoted to Group Captain in 1996, he served as a staff officer at Headquarters No 1 Group before taking command of RAF Wittering in 1997. Here he had his second contact with royalty, in that Princess Diana had been its honorary air commodore.

Speaking to the media he said: "She brought great happiness. There are a large number of photos of her and of the young princes around the station and in squadron diaries."

In these and other comments he displayed a natural talent for the diplomatic and effective turn of phrase, which led one who knew him to speak of "a silkiness and charm that inspired all those around him."

In 1999, after attending the Higher Command and Staff course, he served as a divisional director at the Joint Services Command and Staff College, where he completed an MA in Defence Studies. Promoted Air Commodore in 2000, he moved to the Ministry of Defence as Director of the Air Staff. He took up his next appointment as Chief of the Defence Staff's liaison officer to the Joint Staff in the Pentagon in November 2002.

He was involved with Iraq at several points. He patrolled the no-fly zone over the north of that country following a Security Council resolution. Later, while at the Pentagon, he took part in the planning and execution of the invasion of Iraq.

Promoted to Air Vice-Marshal in 2003, he was appointed Air Officer Commanding No 1 Group, where he had responsibility for all Royal Air Force and Royal Navy fast jet forces, and for sustaining those forces in operations over Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2005 he was appointed Assistant Chief of the Air Staff at the Ministry of Defence, where he was responsible for RAF strategy development during a period of significant change.

He maintained a high level of personal fitness, enjoying skiing, water-skiing and sailing, serving as Admiral of the RAF Sailing Association. He was also president of RAF Triathlon, and was taking part in a triathlon event at RAF Brize Norton when he suddenly collapsed.

The event consisted of a 400 metre swim, a 22km bicycle ride and a 5km run; he was running the last of these when he died.

At the time of his death he had served for 14 months as the RAF's second most senior officer. Describing him as a highly respected and courageous leader, Chief of Air Staff Sir Stephen Dalton said his death came as a huge blow to the RAF and to defence in general.

Alistair Bruce of Sky News, an old friend of Moran, said of him: "He was a fit, engaging and highly-energetic commander, an inspirational man with a large smattering of fighter pilot humour and daring. The jet epitomised his character. Everything had high octane in it, and his eyes danced about, taking in every detail of any situation before setting all at ease. I would have followed him anywhere."

He won many honours and decorations; last year he was named a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath.

In 1980 he married Elizabeth Jane Goodwin. He is survived by her and by their son and two daughters.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Christopher Moran, pilot and RAF officer: born Urmston, Manchester 28 April 1956; Commander-in-Chief Headquarters Air Command 2009-; Air Aide-de-Camp to the Queen, 2009-; married 1980 Elizabeth Goodwin (two daughters, one son); MVO 1993, , OBE 1997, KCB 2009; died Brize Norton 26 May 2010.

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