Did you know what the little red box in front of the pilot is in Masters of the Air?

The red box visible on top of the instrument panel in Masters of the Air
(Image: Apple Studios)

In today's short reaction article about Masters of the Air, we'd like to take a closer look at something you could see several times in the show. Namely, a small red box placed atop the instrument panel in front of the pilot. We were really curious what it was, and maybe you were also wondering.

Close-up of a real specimen of the box
(Photo: aeroantique.com)

The small box is called Switchbox, Destruction, Radio, BC-765, and it was used to detonate a small charge and destroy the plane's IFF radio transponder. IFF, short for "Identification, friend or foe," was an emergent technology during World War II. When a radar signal hit the plane, the transponder would broadcast a code, identifying the aircraft as a friendly so as to avoid attacks by interceptors or ground-based flak.

A bomber cockpit with the BC-765, mounted right of center
(Photo: worthpoint.com)

Obviously, this technology was highly classified and the Allies did not want the Axis powers to get their hands on even just one such device. The BC-765 had two buttons in the front. When they were pressed simultaneously, typically when the plane was going down and the crew was about to bail out, it would detonate a small charge to destroy the IFF transponder and prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. Human mistake in the form of the pilot accidentally activating the system while trying to turn on the IFF transponder prompted a small thin wire to be added in front of the button, preventing accidental use. It's also been suggested that the system was rather sensitive and could cause an inadvertent detonation just from landing too hard.

The BC-765 visible from outside the cockpit in Masters of the Air
(Image: Apple Studios)

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The Medals of Honor of different branches of the U.S. armed forces
(Photo: public domain)

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