Rampant Scotland Directory

Scottish Inventions and Discoveries
- Radar - Sir Robert Watson-Watt (1892-1973)

Born in Brechin as Watson Watt (without the hyphen) and a direct descendant of the inventor James Watt, he developed an early interest in radio waves. After World War I, Watson Watt began to look into how aircraft could be detected by the distortion of radio signals. The basic principles of radio-wave reflection and electromagnetic waves had been established by another Scot, James Clerk Maxwell. "Radar" was short for "radio detecting and ranging" and radar development was first started elsewhere. But Watt created the first workable radar system, turning the theory into one of the most important war-winning weapons. Watson Watt became the superintendent of the radio division of the National Physics Laboratory in Teddington. By 1936 his radio stations were able to detect aircraft up to 70 miles away.

It was due to the network of radar stations he proposed that the over-stretched resources of the RAF were able to be in the right place at the right time, as Luftwaffe aircraft streamed over the English Channel during the Battle of Britain from August to October 1940. Watt went on to develop airborne interception radar that helped night fighters detect attacking bombers in the dark. In 1942 Watson-Watt (he had hyphenated his name by this time) was awarded a knighthood.

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