The ‘Father of Radio Guidance Systems.’
Archibald M. “Archy” Low was born in 1888 in London. The son of an engineer, he frequently visited his father’s workplace while a young child. He attended Colet Court school as a young boy and displayed a strong aptitude for science. In 1899, he attended St. Paul’s School and in 1904, was enrolled in the Central Technical College. His technical genius was first apparent in May 1914 when he developed an early forerunner of what was to become television, which he called “TeleVista.” He did not pursue this idea, in part, due to the outbreak of World War I in August 1914.
Low volunteered for military service and was soon a Captain in the Royal Flying Corps. He helped research ways to remotely control aircraft, with the idea of turning airplanes into guided missiles. As head of Experimental Works, the military organization in charge of the project, Low supervised a hand-picked team and conducted a test flight of an unmanned craft for military dignitaries on March 21, 1917. The vehicle was launched with compressed air (a first), and although it crashed soon into the test, Low and his team were able to control the plane, albeit briefly. He improved the test vehicle by adding an electrically driven gyroscope (another of his innovations), but the project was soon abandoned by the British military.
In 1917, Archibald Low and his team also invented the first electrically-steered rocket, a forerunner of a weapon used by the Germans against merchant ships in World War II. Low’s inventions during World War I were, for the most part, too advanced to be appreciated by his own government but he has been called the “Father of radio guidance systems” for his wartime accomplishments. The Germans, however, were well aware of how effective his remote-controlled weapons might be, and in 1915, made two unsuccessful attempts to assassinate him.
After World War I, Archibald Low founded Low Engineering Company and produced several inventions in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1933, Archibald Low was one of the founders of the British Interplanetary Society and served as its president from 1936 to 1951. Although in poor health for most of the rest of his life he wrote a number of prophetic books on the future of astronautics in the 1930s and continued to propose innovative weapon systems, though none came to fruition. Although Low’s military inventions were consistently rejected by his own government in World War II, the Germans improved upon Low’s 1918 rocket guidance system in their V-1 flying bomb (the first cruise missile), which rained death onto England and Western Europe for months in 1944 and 1945.
Low was also a prolific author of science books, which he wrote for the general public, in an effort to nurture interest in science and engineering. Between 1916 and 1954, he authored forty books, including four works of science fiction for children.
Archibald Montgomery Low died in September 1956.