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Testing the radar system in the Halifax and a threat from the Germans


Getting the radar system into a Halifax bomber
Bernard Lovell Astronomer
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So in 1942, in January I began to pick up the pieces and I found out that my problem was to adopt a system to make it work in some of the new four engine bombers, which were about to come off the production line. Well, the first was to put it in a Halifax bomber and so I studied this and I thought that originally the problem might not be too difficult because the echoes had been seen from a scanner rotating in a small Blenheim aircraft. The problem with the Halifax is that the scanner could not be put in the nose of the aircraft. That was the first problem, because that was occupied by the bomb aimer and the forward gunner. So I decided to... it's amazing, you know, how one made all these decisions, made them oneself apparently. I don't remember asking anyone else about it, and I decided... well, the only thing to do is to build the scanner under the bomb bay, under the fuselage and put it in a perspex cupola, an inverted perspex cupola.

So I took a three foot scanner, cut it in half... not in half, sliced off the top of the bottom, and decided on the sort of depth I could have and went to see Handley Page, who was the director of the firm making the Handley Page aircraft. And he summoned his chief engineer, chief designer and I said to him, 'Mr. Handley Page, I'm asked if you would please mount this under one of your Halifax bombers so that we can put it in'. Oh, I've never forgotten the atmosphere in the room. He said, 'Put that under one of our bombers... It's out of the question'. He said, 'We'd have to take the bombs out. We'd have to take most of them out anyhow'. So I thought... but fortunately I was not rude enough to say it would be better to take a few bombs out and drop the rest in the right place.

Anyhow, I retired because what could I do. I was still in my twenties. I couldn't order him to do this, but of course things were quite different then, so I phoned Cherwell and told him what I'd done. Well, you know, within a week or two a Halifax bomber arrived at Hurn Airport with the cupola fitted underneath. You see, it became... it was my misfortune to suffer the highest priority. Churchill, as I will explain later, had ordered Cherwell to do that, and the secretary of state for air who was Sinclair. To do this with the highest priority.

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: Handley Page Halifax, Bristol Blenheim, Hurn Airport, Lord Cherwell, Winston Churchill

Duration: 3 minutes, 23 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2007

Date story went live: 05 September 2008