John Cunningham decided to become a pilot and aeronautical engineer and at age 18 joined 604 squadron at Hendon.  He became a renowned pilot in both peace and war - the first to fly a jet airliner, and the first to perform radar interceptions at night.

John Cunningham's "Cat's Eyes" were the Airborne Interception (AI) radar developed by Bowen with which he, with Sqn/Ldr Brown at the Sopley Ground Control Interception (GCI) radar, developed the control techniques for the night interception of attacking aircraft. In May 1941 he shot down a German Heinkel in sight of King George VI who visited the station at Sopley near Christchurch.  The press gave him the nickname "Cat's Eyes Cunningham - the pilot who can see in the dark".  At the time the Airborne Interception radar was secret, so the Ministry of Information explained that Cunningham ate a lot of carrots.  

Airborne Interception radar enabled the RAF to win the night battle that followed our success in the Battle of Britain.  This prevented the Germans from achieving the air superiority they needed to mount an invasion of this country. 

Born 27 July 1917, died 21 July 2002.

If you have additional information or materials - please contact the Radar Trust
Papers & Links etc.
Penley Radar Archives - obituary - not in electronic version
Wikipedia page:  biography John Cunningham  accessed Mar 2011
or try:  http://en.wikipedia.org/  with search words: John Cunningham RAF 
Obituaries - The Telegraph - 23 July 2002;  The Guardian - Monday 29 July 2002;
   The Independent - Wednesday 31 July 2002.
John 'Cat's Eyes' Cunningham, John Golley John "Cat's-eyes" Cunningham
The Aviation Legend
Golley, John

John Cunningham rose to fame as an outstanding night-fighter pilot, "Cat's-eyes Cunningham", during the bombing blitz of Britain.  Few then knew of his major role in perfecting the operational use of radar interception. He was the first squadron pilot in the world to shoot down an enemy aircraft using radar.  His partnership with Jimmy Rawnsley, his navigator, provides a fascinating insight into the air war under the cover of darkness.

Airlife Publishing Ltd, July 2002
ISBN 10: 1840373431 
ISBN 13: 9781840373431 
240 pages
Open Library  accessed: Jan 2010 
Night Fighter, Rawnsley Night Fighter
Rawnsley, C F; Wright, Robert

The story of the development of the radar-equipped night fighters of the RAF, of the men who flew them and of the role they played in WW2. 'Jimmy' Rawnsley was crewed with John Cunningham as a gunner, qualified as an observer radar operator, and the pair went on to become the RAF's leading night-fighter crew, destroying over 20 enemy aircraft.

Crecy Publishing Ltd, 1998
[many earlier editions] 
ISBN 10: 0907579671 
ISBN 13: 9780907579670
Open Library  accessed: Jan 2010 

copyright Purbeck Radar Museum Trust 2013  |  www.purbeckradar.org.uk  |  version 8f - 9 May 2015

Page last updated: 02 July 2011