"Sir Robert & The Knights of the Round Screen" - an unMetered Story

"Sir Robert & The Knights of the Round Screen" - an unMetered Story

Tennessee weather is best described as unpredictable. You could be wearing shorts at breakfast and a parka by dinner. The weather changes more in one week than a kid changes crayons sometimes. But when it changes from sunny with a high of 72 to severe thunderstorms in a matter of hours, how do you find out what’s going on? No matter where you go for the answer, there’s one common thread…Sir Robert Watson-Watt.

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This week’s story is called, “Sir Robert and the Knights of the Round Screen.

Tennessee weather is best described as unpredictable. You could be wearing shorts at breakfast and a parka by dinner. The weather changes more in one week than a kid changes crayons sometimes. But when it changes from sunny with a high of 72 to severe thunderstorms in a matter of hours, how do you find out what’s going on? No matter where you go for the answer, there’s one common thread…Sir Robert Watson-Watt.

Sir Robert isn’t a traditional knight like you read about in storybooks…He’s not the kind of knight that slayed dragons or saved damsels in distress with a sword and shield. In fact, Sir Robert influenced the outcome of real battles far beyond the battlefield.

When he was born on April 13, 1892 in Scotland, his parents had no idea that he would be knighted 40 years later, or be awarded the US Medal for Merit in 1946. The son of a carpenter and cabinet-maker, Sir Robert graduated in 1912 from the University of Dundee with a degree in engineering. He decided to take an assistantship at the university upon graduation and studied “wireless telegraphy,” now commonly called radio.

In 1916, two years after World War I broke out, he decided to change jobs, a decision that would lead him to his greatest achievement. He wanted to use his knowledge of radio waves in the British War Office to develop communication technology

Unfortunately, there were no jobs available for him, so he was recruited by the Meteorological Office where he began to develop technology to prevent aircraft pilots from flying into lightning storms. Since lightning storms emit radio waves that can be detected, he began researching how to detect those radio waves to predict their location for pilots to avoid.

This research led to the invention of the huff-duff, a device that predicts the location of objects based on their radio frequency. The military realized the importance of tracking radio wave frequencies, and the huff-duff became an important tool to find German U-Boats in the Second World War. In fact, it’s estimated that the huff-duff was used in a quarter of all U-Boat attack.

In 1933, rumors began to swirl about a “death ray” the Germans were thought to be developing that used radio waves. Sir Robert was called upon to debunk that rumor and in doing so, was able to use the research to detect incoming German bombers.

In February 1935, Sir Robert demonstrated the first RADAR, or radio detection and ranging, system using the British Broadcasting Corporation’s short-wave transmitters by bouncing radio waves off a plane

The RADAR system became a top-secret military program and was implemented in 1938 under the code name “Chain Home.” The invention gave the British Royal Air Force vital information to intercept and fight off German bombers as they crossed the channel during World War II.

During World War II, RADAR operators saw echoes on their screens caused by different types of weather. After the war, American meteorologist David Atlas and his team took RADAR technology and developed the first Weather RADAR. Atlas and his team determined that different types of precipitation created different types of radio and electromagnetic waves, which could be tracked using RADAR.

While David Atlas is considered the pioneer of modern day Weather RADAR technology, many men were instrumental in building the foundation of RADAR as we know it today. In 1842, Christian Andreas Doppler made the observation of how light and sound waves are affected by motion. His observation is known as the Doppler Effect. Heinrich Hertz discovered radio waves and James Clerk Maxwell’s discovery of the electromagnetic field combined with Sir Robert’s RADAR technology, giving birth to the modern-day Weather RADAR Middle Tennessee Electric and the National Weather Service relies on for weather predictions.

Today there are many types of RADARs including Doppler RADAR. Weather RADARs are a type of Doppler radar using pulses to determine the speed and direction of meteorological events. The radio waves are reflected back and deciphered to give us the information we need to decide if we should grab an umbrella or sunglasses as we run out the door.

And that’s the unMetered story of how Sir Robert Watson-Watt created the first RADAR system, the foundation upon which the Doppler RADAR system was built and one of the tools we use every day.

So the next time a storm front rolls through and you experience an outage, weather-related or not, be sure to contact Middle Tennessee Electric, your member-owned, not-for-profit, electric cooperative at 877-777-9111 or through the myMTEMC Mobile App. For concerns not related to outages, you can talk to one of our Member Support Specialists at 877-777-9020 or at www.MTEMC.com.

More stories like this one can be found on the unMetered Podcast, Middle Tennessee Electric’s newest communication channel. You can subscribe to the audio podcast through iTunes, Google Play, or Stitcher. The video podcast can also be found on YouTube, Facebook, and MTEMC.com/unMetered.

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