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Moving to St Athan and continuing the work on transmitters


Complaining about the lack of facilities on the radar project
Bernard Lovell Astronomer
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There was known to be a trouble with this equipment, not only that it was very poorly made, but the very fact that it was working on two long wavelengths, because the transmitting aerials, transmitting and receiving aerials were... had a very broad beam and one immediately got solid ground returns from whatever height you might be flying at. If you were flying at 10,000 feet, which was quite high for a Blenheim, then for any range greater than 10,000 feet, the system was completely blocked by ground returns, therefore the great thing was to find some means of working on a much shorter wavelength. And Blackett... sorry, Bowen said to me, 'Look, we want you to work on finding how to make a transmitter on a much shorter wavelength than 1.5 metres'. Well, I absolutely knew nothing about it. And there was no library, there was no workshop, this was just an open hanger, and it soon transpired that I was... so in fact, what actually happened, I did a lot of testing with the old equipment and made some rather vague progress with trying to think and devise how one would use... devise a narrower beam and I’m afraid I wrote a letter to Blackett complaining about the lack of facilities in what was supposed to be a matter of the highest priority. Well, I complained that there was no workshop, no facilities, no library and that the constant changes of instructions from high levels to Bowen, as to whether what type of aircraft he must use. It was first of all to be short nosed and then long nosed and this made an enormous difference to the type of aerials.

Well, unknown to me, Blackett had sent my letter to Tizard and again, completely unknown to me, Tizard had sent my letter to Rowe, who was then in Dundee and was really the superintendent of the whole lot. I did not know until very, very much later that Tizard never destroyed any letters and that he had kept Blackett’s letter and it is now and I saw it, for reasons I will mention later on, in the archives of the Imperial War Museum, and I did not know that I had put my thumb so to speak on a very sore point. Tizard had already suspected that things were not right with this development and I... this caused... I learnt much later on that although it did not affect me then, that quite a revolution at high levels.

Bernard Lovell (1913-2012), British radio astronomer and founder of the Jodrell Bank Observatory, received an OBE in 1946 for his work on radar, and was knighted in 1961 for his contribution to the development of radio astronomy. He obtained a PhD in 1936 at the University of Bristol. His steerable radio telescope, which tracked Sputnik across the sky, is now named the Lovell telescope.

Listeners: Megan Argo Alastair Gunn

Megan Argo is an astronomer at the University of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Observatory researching supernovae and star formation in nearby starburst galaxies. As well as research, she is involved with events in the Observatory's Visitor Centre explaining both astronomy and the history of the Observatory to the public.

Alastair Gunn is an astrophysicist at Jodrell Bank Observatory, University of Manchester. He is responsible for the coordination and execution of international radio astronomical observations at the institute and his professional research concerns the extended atmospheres of highly active binary stars. Alastair has a deep interest and knowledge of the history of radio astronomy in general and of Jodrell Bank in particular. He has written extensively about Jodrell Bank's history.

Tags: Bristol Blenheim, Dundee, Imperial War Museum, Edward Bowen, Patrick Blackett, Henry Tizard, Albert Percival Rowe

Duration: 3 minutes, 31 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2007

Date story went live: 05 September 2008