RADAR #OnThisDay

On 26th of February 1935 Scot, Robert Watson Watt, first demonstrated RADAR.

Many engineers around the world had been exploring the use of using radio waves to detect metal objects since the end of the 19th Century.

Brechin born Robert Watson Watt worked for the Meteorological Office where he was developing ways to track thunderstorms.

This led to the 1920s development of a system later known as high-frequency direction finding (HFDF or “huff-duff”). Although well publicized at the time, the system’s enormous military potential was not developed until the late 1930s. Huff-duff allowed operators to determine the location of an enemy radio in seconds and it became a major part of the network of systems that helped defeat the threat of German U-boats during World War II. It is estimated that huff-duff was used in about a quarter of all attacks on U-boats.

In 1935 Watt was asked to comment on reports of a German death ray based on radio. Watt and his assistant Arnold Frederic Wilkins quickly determined it was not possible, but Wilkins suggested using radio signals to locate aircraft at long distances. This led to a February 1935 demonstration where signals from a BBC short-wave transmitter were bounced off a Handley Page Heyford aircraft. Watt led the development of a practical version of this device, which entered service in 1938 under the code name Chain Home. This system provided the vital advance information that helped the Royal Air Force win the Battle of Britain.

South Uist radar image credit Duncan Lunan

Robert Watson Watt is in the Scottish Science Hall of Fame and you can read more about his pioneering work here: Robert Watson-Watt (1892-1973)

Robert Watson-Watt was a pioneer of radar technology. Although he did not invent the idea of radio detection, he was the first to prove it could work on a large scale.

Today, radar is used to:

  • Forecast the weather
  • Calculate how fast cars are travelling
  • Assist space vehicles when landing
  • Ensure safe air and sea travel
National Museum of Flight curator, Ian Brown examines a piece of Second World War radar equipment from the East Lothian attraction’s aviation collection as he launches his new book, Radar in Scotland: 1938-46. The publication reveals the fascinating history of Scotland’s wartime radar stations and the vital role they played in the conflict. Image credit Paul Dodds

See also: Orkney’s WW2 Radar Stations in New Book

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