Robert Watson-Watt

Sir Robert Alexander Watson-Watt was born on 13 April 1892 in Angus, Scotland. He was a descendant of none other than James Watt, who gained fame for his development of the steam engine during the 1700s. Young Robert excelled as a student whilst studying engineering at university. After World War I began in 1914, Watson-Watt sought to support the Allies' war effort by serving with Britain's War Office. Instead, he found employment as a meteorologist. He developed a system of using radio waves to detect lightning, enabling his team to inform combat pilots of the whereabouts of storms.

In 1924, Watson-Watt was transferred to a radio research station, where he continued his research in radio waves. In 1933, he was appointed superintendent of the National Physics Laboratory's radio department. Two years later, Watson-Watt wrote a report titled, 'Detection and location of aircraft by radio methods.’ The report intrigued the Air Ministry, particularly Sir Henry Tizard, chairman of the Aeronautical Research Committee. A few days after providing the report, Watson-Watt was required to provide a demonstration. During the trial, two radio antennae successfully detected an approaching Handley Page Heyford bomber. Robert Watson-Watt was awarded the patent for his invention, which was later called 'radar', short for 'radio detection and ranging.’ A chain of radar stations was set up along England's southern and eastern coastline. During World War II, these radar stations proved to be invaluable assets in Britain's air defence network. They played a significant role in the Royal Air Force's (RAF) victory over the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) during the Battle of Britain. Radar stations could detect Luftwaffe formations whilst they were still forming formations over France, providing a valuable early warning service to RAF fighters. Robert Watson-Watt died on 5 December 1973 at the age of 81.

Interesting fact: In 1956, whilst temporarily living in Canada, Watson-Watt was pulled over for speeding by a police officer armed with a radar gun. His response was, "If I had known what they were going to do with it, I would have never have invented it!"