Cat’s Eyes

John Cunningham’s wartime nickname concealed a vital military secret—the invention of airborne radar.

John "Cat's Eyes" Cunningham (left, with Frank Halford and Frank Whittle), after the war, during his days as a test pilot for de Havilland. (SI 75-16331)

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At the war’s conclusion in 1945, the highly-decorated Cunningham was the RAF's top-scoring night fighter with 20 kills. He continued to fly in peacetime and in July 1949 made the maiden test flight in the de Havilland Comet, the world’s first passenger jet. Six years later President Eisenhower presented Cunningham with the Harmon Trophy, awarded annually to the world’s outstanding aviator.

Not long before his death in 2002, Cunningham was asked for the secret of his wartime success, and his answer had nothing to do with carrots: “The essential was teamwork, not just between pilot and radar operator,” he reflected. “A night fighter crew was at the top of a pyramid, ground control radar and searchlights at the base, and up there an aircraft with two chaps in it. Unless they were competent and compatible all that great effort was wasted.”

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