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Radar

Winning technology for the Battle of Britain South East,

Robert Watson-Watt makes a note on some equipment.
Robert Watson-Watt, Scottish engineer, is seen here in 1935 with the apparatus he developed to detect reflected radio echoes from enemy aircraft. Science Museum/Science & Society Picture Library

Robert Watson-Watt (1892-1973) led the British development of radar (radio detection and ranging), which built on experiments carried out by Heinrich Hertz in the late 19th century.

While working at the Radio Research Station in Slough in the 1930s, Watson-Watt was asked by the government if it would be possible to construct a ‘death ray’ to bring down enemy aircraft using radio waves.

Along with his assistant Arnold Wilkins, Watson-Watt found that this was an unlikely prospect, however he reported that it would be possible to detect the position of aircraft using radio waves reflected by the metal in the aircraft’s body.

Their work was tested with a demonstration at Farnborough on Tuesday 26 February 1935 with an RAF Handley Page Heyford bomber acting as the target. The experiment proved a success, and the team were tasked to develop the technology for wider use, which proved to be a decisive advantage during the Battle of Britain.

Royal Academy of Engineering

Decade
Type
Engineering, Mathematics, Physics,
Region
South East
Location
Key Individuals
Robert Watson-Watt,