The Innovation Showcase – 18th March
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Sir Robert Watson-Watt

Sir Robert's work resulted in radar design and installation on the coasts of England.

Sir Robert Watson-Watt

1892 – 1973

Sir Robert's work resulted in radar design and installation on the coasts of England


Sir Robert Watson-Watt started as a meteorologist at the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough with the aim of applying his knowledge of radio to locate thunderstorms so as to provide warnings to airmen. In 1924 he moved to Slough where the Radio Research Station had been formed and in 1927, following an amalgamation with the National Physical Laboratory, he became Superintendent of an NPL outstation at Slough.

After a further re-organisation in 1933, Watson-Watt became Superintendent of a new radio department at NPL in Teddington. Following an approach from H E Wimperis of the Air Ministry, Watson-Watt, with the help of his assistant Arnold Wilkins, drafted, in February 1935, a report titled 'The Detection of Aircraft by Radio Methods'. This was presented to the newly formed committee concerned with air defence, chaired by Sir Henry Tizard, and on 26 February 1935 a trial took place using the BBC's short-wave (about 50 metres wavelength) radio transmitter at Daventry against a Heyford Bomber. The short-wave transmitter detected the aircraft and on 1 September 1936 Watson-Watt became Superintendent of a new establishment under the Air Ministry, Bawdsey Research Station in Bawdsey Manor, near Felixstowe.

The pioneering work that Watson-Watt started at NPL resulted in the design and installation of a chain of radar stations along the east and south coasts of England in time for the outbreak of war in 1939. It laid the groundwork that helped the Royal Air Force to win the Battle of Britain. He was knighted in 1942 for his outstanding work for his country and in 1952 he was granted £50 000 by the government for services to his country.

Sir Robert Watson-Watt died at Inverness on 5 December 1973.

In 2014, a statue of Robert Watson-Watt was erected in his hometown, Brechin; and a BBC drama, 'Castles in the Sky', starring Eddie Izzard as Robert Watson-Watt, was aired.