|Hawes Mechanical Television Archive||by James T. Hawes, AA9DT|
Did Baird Invent Radar?
What is noctovision?
Noctovision with infrared
Seeing lights through fog. We know that John Baird, borrowing profusely from the work of Ernst Ruhmer, demonstrated noctovision. Noctovision was mechanical television that operated with infrared light instead of visible light. Not much new there. Yet Baird, ever the promoter, asserted that noctovision could see through some types of fog. Some of Baird's patents even explored the idea of using noctovision for navigation. Baird's navigational noctovision was a camera and a monitor all in one package. With noctovision, a ship at sea could receive a low-resolution image of a lighthouse lamp. One ship might also spot the navigation beacon of another ship, and then avoid a collision.[Moseley and Barton-Chapple, pp. 129-131]
Low resolution.The navigational noctovisor also included a compass-like dial. By aiming the noctovisor lens, the operator could read the bearing to the distant light. The lens angle helped the operator to determine the elevation of the remote subject.[Moseley and Barton-Chapple, p. 132] Yet despite its bearing and elevation finding capabilities, the noctovisor couldn't compute the distance to an object. The promised fog penetration also turned out to be a fantasy. Noctovision simply couldn't penetrate all types of fog. Moreover, the machine's hyper-low resolution was a serious limitation. Important image details might well fall between the noctovisor's 30 scan lines. Because of the lacking definition, noctovision's angle of view was extremely narrow. While the device could locate distant lights, it couldn't detect the contours of a treacherous coastline. (This fact indicates that noctovision would have been useless as a night scope. The night scope claim, another misconception about noctovision, appears elsewhere on the Web.)
Noctovision with radio
In some patents, Baird surmises that noctovision's illumination source could be radio waves. The usual citation refers to British patent #292,185. (Baird also filed a similar American patent, #1,699,270.) In the American patent, Baird speculates throughout. He supposes that near-infrared radio waves (microwaves, perhaps?) could penetrate fog more readily than could infrared.[Baird, lines 32-35] In other words, Baird admits a fundamental defect in infrared noctovision. He then suggests improving noctovision by substituting very short radio waves for infrared.
Filter. The reader must wonder if a lens could actually focus radio waves. Other examples of pitch lenses for microwaves exist. For instance, some automotive radar detectors employ similar plastic lenses. According to the patent, the pitch lens doesn't magnify or concentrate, as with a glass lens for light. Instead, the pitch lens is a type of filter that passes only the desired microwaves.[Baird, lines 51-61] (By the way, Baird didn't invent the pitch lens.)
Disc. The patented version of noctovision still scans the subject (6) with a disc: The disc (8) that Baird copied from Paul Nipkow's patent. Normally, this disc would scan a field of light from an arc lamp. Baird assumes that this same disc can now scan a field of broadband radio waves. This is a very dubious idea. Each frequency of waves has a different focal point. Some frequencies might even penetrate the solid parts of the disc. As wave frequencies rise or fall, the disc apertures and disc material require adjustments. We know this to be true, because cameras focus at a different point with infrared than with visible light. The patent's disc description doesn't account for differences in light and radio waves.
The Noctovision receiver consists of these parts...
Antennas. As we've seen, Baird's block diagram for Patent 292,185 is quite vague. This diagram includes only a rudimentary antenna (10). We assume a fixed, wire antenna, instead of dishes as many modern radars use. Baird's antenna is a throwback to Tesla, Hertz and Marconi. Probably the spark generator operates on the microwave band. Hertz conducted experiments on this band.
No modulation. The illumination source is also unmodulated. For this reason, engineers have pointed out that Baird's invention couldn't determine range to a target. Baird's son Malcolm proposes adding such modulation. But of course, a patent is what it is. An inventor can't claim rights to "what might have been." That's the difference between a patent and blind faith.
Was it radar?
Incredulous. Elsewhere on the Web, you'll find incredulous accounts that link radio-noctovision and radar. Some Web pages don't stop there, but insist that "Baird must have invented radar!" The expert sources below explain why these ideas are false. (Two of these sources are British.)
What do the experts say?
Moseley. The first source is Sydney Moseley, John Logie Baird's closest and most loyal friend. Moseley publicized Baird's achievements and later wrote an authoritative Baird biography. Moseley was also the financial wizard that saved Baird's first company. Moseley inteviewed two distinguished engineers who both participated in the development of radar. Both of these men knew Baird and his work.
Burns. Our second source is Russell Burns, who wrote a very detailed technical history of Baird's work. Burns' style is accessible to both technical and lay readers. The quality of the writing and research are excellent. Burns' earlier work also details much of Baird's history.
Abramson. Albert Abramson's first McFarland book is one of the top research sources for television history. Abramson also worked in the television industry. He gathered his facts during extensive, worldwide travels and investigation of original documents. Interviews with many original television engineers supplemented Abramson's literary research. Abramson's history books are among the most objective and least biased toward one inventor.
Dunlap. Orrin Dunlap is one of the great technical writers and technical historians of the twentieth century. As early television developed, Dunlap was there. He wrote many of the first television articles for the New York Times. Some of these groundbreaking articles appear in the anthology The Outlook for Television. Dunlap was a tireless student and biographer of the sciences, particularly radio. His Radio's 100 Men of Science is a treasure. Its concise, yet understanding account summarizes contributions from scientists across the world.
Below is what author, historian and engineer Russell Burns says about Baird and radar. [Burns, p. 119. See bibliography, below.]
Television historian Albert Abramson also weighed in on noctovision. [Abramson, p. 105. See bibliography, below.]
Orrin Dunlap exposes the make-believe conflict over who invented radar. Hint: The "who" isn't "Baird." [Dunlap, p. 123. See bibliography, below.]
Could the experts be missing something?
Speculation isn't proof. Sure, our experts could be missing something. But we reject the notion that "late-breaking Baird news is about to arrive." That's another promotional gimmick to help sell a book. Fact: After all these decades, the news trail is ice cold. Since 1946, Baird has been pushing up daisies. Let him rest in peace. Besides, speculation isn't proof. And a fable, no matter how compelling, isn't proof. And faith, though it may be blind, isn't proof, either. Without proof, what's the sense in crediting Baird with an achievement? Anyway, the so-called "evidence" that we've already seen is defective. We've just proven that it's defective. Why should we now expect anything but more of the same?
Let's cast off the sensationalism. Underneath it, we discover that Baird didn't invent radar. No one person did or could have. Radar is a compound invention. It's the research, inspiration and development of many people. Further, as experts testify, Baird's unmarketed invention noctovision simply isn't radar.
Abramson, Albert. The History of Television: 1880 to 1941. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 1987.
Baird, John. 2005. Apparatus for transmitting views or images to a distance. U.S. Patent 1,699,270, filed May 4, 1928 and issued January 15, 1929.
Burns, Russell. John Logie Baird. N.c.: The Institution of Engineering and Technology, 2001.
Dinsdale, Alfred. First Principles of Television. Arno Press, 1975. (Reprint. Original publication: London: Chapman & Hall, Ltd., 1932.)
Dunlap, Orrin E. Radar: What Radar is and How it Works, Revised Edition. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1948.
Moseley, Sydney Alexander. John Baird, The Romance and Tragedy of the Pioneer of Television. London: Odhams Press, 1952.
Moseley, Sydney and H.J. Barton-Chapple. Television To-Day and To-Morrow London: Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, Ltd, 1933.
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