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Arnold F. Wilkins

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Arnold Frederic Wilkins O.B.E., (20 February 1907 - 5 August 1985), radar pioneer

1907 Born in Chorlton, Cheshire.

Educated at Chester City and County School, Manchester University and St. John's College, Cambridge; graduated in physics

1931 Joined the Radio Research Station at Slough under Robert Watson-Watt

c.1934 H. E. Wimperis, at the Air Ministry, asked Watson Watt to investigate the proposal for a radio beam to destroy enemy bombers or their crews. Watson Watt asked Wilkins to calculate the amount of radio energy needed to raise the temperature of 8 pints of water from 98 °F to 105°F at 5 kilometres distance. Wilkins's calculations quickly showed that the idea was impracticable but, in response to Watson Watt's question as to whether there was anything that could be done for air defence, he recalled some earlier work on VHF communications by the General Post Office engineers who had noticed that the signals fluttered when an aircraft flew nearby. Wilkins then calculated the amount of energy that could be reflected by an aircraft from a transmitter of feasible strength, and showed that there should be enough for detection at useful distances. Watson Watt reported this conclusion to Wimperis, and his report went to the new committee for the scientific survey of air defence under Henry Tizard.

To estimate the amount of radio energy that would be re-radiated by a metal-skinned bomber, Wilkins invoked some elementary principles of physical optics that were equally applicable to the analysis of simple antenna arrays. The simplicity of the method and the significance of the results caused Watson-Watt initially to have some doubts as to their accuracy and, as he conceded, "I am still nervous as to whether we have not got a factor of ten wrong, but even that would not be fatal".[1]

A trial took place on 26 February 1935, using the BBC's short-wave transmitter at Daventry against a Heyford bomber, with a mobile receiver a few miles away. The trial was immediately successful.

Wilkins led the team which started research on radar at Orford Ness, which led to the formation of the Telecommunications Research Establishment (TRE).

1938 Wilkins helped establish the Chain Home stations; helped develop Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) system to identify friendly aircraft.

Post-WWII Worked at the Radio Research Station in Buckinghamshire

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Precursors to radar - the Watson-Watt Memorandum and the Daventry experiment, by B. A. Austin, Int. J. Elect. Enging. Educ., Vol. 36, pp. 365–372.[1]
  • Biography of Robert Watson-Watt, ODNB
  • Wikipedia [2]
  • Purbeck Radar Group [3]