The Evolution Of Radar
I will be posting a series of “lessons” on the history of Radar, right upto our current developments and what we can look forward to in the future. I hope you find these both educational and interesting!!
RAdio Detection And Ranging, or RADAR, was developed during World War 2. The initial idea, believe it or not - was to use it as a “death ray”. Using radio waves in enormous concentrations to vibrate an aircraft so much, that it surpassed its airframe strength limits and crumbled while in the air.
The “Meaty Bit”
In the late 19th Century a German physicist named Heinrich Hertz discovered and showed that radio waves reflected off metal objects.
Heinrich Hertz (1857-1894 aged 36)
This was the small step before the great leap during the 2nd World War which saw several Countries developing their own systems - in complete isolation of each other and in great secrecy to detect Airborne objects. Already invented and in use was a similar system used to detect ships, invented by another German named Christian Hülsmeyer, this anti ship collision system was actually only a very basic idea used mainly during very foggy weather.
During World War 2, like all technology during the time Radar received heavy research and development, rapidly developing beyond its years to a capability that was proven, worked and provided the upper hand to the Allies. Dr Watson-Watt, who worked for the RRS (A weather man), was developing a system to detect weather, for the ability to predict when you could and couldn’t frolic in your garden wearing nothing but a pair of wellies. He didn’t achieve that, instead he stumbled upon RADAR - although it wasn’t called that until 1939 when the US needed a simple name for a very advanced and intricate device.
Doctor Watson-Watt (1892-1973)
Next Time: Dr Watson-Watt - His History and the development of the Chain Home.
Watson-Watt was a weather man. Studying the possibility of truly predicting weather and more importantly - what areas will be and have been affected by thunder storms. As in the previous tutorial, it had already been proven that radio waves reflected off objects and Watson-Watt was looking into whether this was a possibility with clouds and precipitation (rain/snow). This was proving to be a success and by proving he could predict where thunderstorms were, he was then able to give a rough estimate of where they were going to go.
Pushing into the Second World War, Watson-Watt was still working within the RRS as a floor supervisor. The Luftwaffe were pummelling London and the surrounding areas - including airfields, daily. The Royal Air Force was on it’s last legs, and the Royal Signalling Corps were providing “early warning” using nothing but binoculars and radios. These “Spotters” couldn’t provide much more than 30nm of warning, not enough for the RAF to hit the Luftwaffe on the way in - but rather take as many down as possible on their way out. Thus the idea of a possibility for real early warning being born and Lord Trenchard along with Sir Winston Churchill finding personnel to research the concept. Watson-Watt was called upon, and single handedly led a team to invent a system that transmitted and received radio waves to provide up-to 100nm of warning - it was dubbed the “Chain Home”.
Using huge antennas spread across the south coast of England, each individual system consisted of 2 sites - a transmitter and a receiver. From here, the Royal Signal Corps fed into an operations wing located in a operations room within RAF Uxbridge. The Women’s Royal Air Force, WRAF (pronounced Waff), had quite an important role here - moving the little miniature aeroplane pieces around a map printed on a huge table - allowing the “controllers” sat on the upper level overlooking the map to scramble the various squadrons located around the south of England.
Credit: Imperial War Museum
This began a huge shift in the Battle of Britain. And finally, the Royal Air Force’s brave Pilots had a fighting chance of eliminating the Nazi Pilots before they could perform their raids over London.
Next time; An in-depth look into the Chain Home System and how it became known as RADAR.