The Impact of Radar
Nothing revolutionized air traffic control more than radar, a system that the British initially developed for air defense in the era preceding World War II. After the war, the U.S. Civil Aeronautics Administration began applying this technology to the problem of keeping civilian flights safely separated. In 1946, the agency used a system developed for the Navy to open a radar-equipped airport tower for demonstration purposes.
By fiscal 1950, the CAA was beginning to deploy the first of its Airport Surveillance Radar (ASR-1) systems. The ASR-1 antenna shown at right was rescued from a junkyard and displayed at the Smithsonian Institution.
As the antenna turned, controllers watched their scopes for "blips" that indicated the position of aircraft in early radar systems (above).
The use of radar to provide separation for en route air traffic followed the application of this technology in the terminal area. The photo below shows the Washington Air Route Traffic Control Center in 1955.
The standing controllers are using surplus Navy video generator (VG) equipment that presented radar data on a horizontal surface.
Across this surface, controllers moved plastic "shrimp boats" indicating aircraft, much as similar markers had earlier been used on maps.