Susanna McLeod

Susanna McLeod

Glimpses of Canadian History : Email: Scribbles@cogeco.ca

Dr. Gerald Bull and Project Babylon

Dr. Gerald Bull spent his life researching, reinventing and creating new methods of missile launching. His munitions science eventually lead to his murder.

Dr. bull in 1965, Head of HARP - World.std.com

Gerald Vincent Bull was born in the small town of North Bay, Ontario on March 8, 1928. He was raised by an aunt when his mother died and his father abandoned the family. Gerald must have been a brilliant youngster – he entered the University of Toronto’s science program when he was just 16.

By age 22, Gerald had earned a PhD from the University of Toronto. In 1951, he was the youngest Canadian to have earned a doctorate. He “wasn’t the most brilliant student in his class,” said Frontline on PBS.org in 1991 “He was more of a hands-on engineer than a theoretical scientist, but he did command attention and he had enormous tenacity,”. Dr. Bull was an expert engineer in the aero-physics fields, specializing in ballistics and aerodynamics.

CARDE hired Dr. Bull to solve aerodynamic aircraft and missile problems

Dr. Bull found employment with the Canadian Armament and Research Development Establishment (CARDE), a centre for weapons research. The focus of their work, said J. Redford in 1992 on World.Std.com, was “the problems of supersonic aerodynamics in preparation for supersonic aircraft and missiles.” At CARDE, Dr. Bull suggested that the traditional method of wind tunnels for testing would be much too expensive, and that launching the missiles from a gun would be better. Devising large guns, and using simple devices, he was able to measure the aerodynamic properties.

Though Dr. Bull’s work was a success, the project was cancelled. By this time, Dr. Bull was head of the CARDE aerophysics program. His people-skills were not smooth; he was found to be brooding and disagreeable, and not in favour of the required bureaucracy. Two years later, he left the government program. Another project came Dr. Bull’s way through McGill University, a professorship in charge of HARP, the High Altitude Research Program.

HARP was jointly funded in 1961 by the Canadian Government and the United States Army to study high altitude ballistics and large guns – really large guns. The goal was to get projectiles into orbit, extending range length and improving artillery. Dr. Bull used his own ranges on the Quebec/Vermont border and in Barbados to test guns with barrels from 20 metres to to 36 metres in length. The projectiles managed to attain altitudes of 180 kilometres to 360 kilometres into space. Again, the project was cancelled. At the same time, he was an independent consultant with armies around the world.

Political changes meant trouble for Dr. Bull

South Africa was one of Dr. Bull’s customers, purchasing weapons, including newly-designed 155mm long-range Howitzers, and tens of thousands of shells, noted Biography Base. South Africa used the weapons to squash Angola’s attempts at separation. Though the United States was aware of his activities (he became an American citizen in 1973), when the Carter government was elected Dr. Bull was arrested for illegal arms dealing. In 1980, he pled guilty and spent 6 months in prison. On release, he was further punished with fines by the Canadian government.

Disgusted with Canada and the United States, Dr. Bull moved to Switzerland, working with any country that needed his services. He was hired by Iraq to build a supergun that would give them superiority over their neighbour, Iran. He convinced the Iraqi government that a colossal cannon that could launch satellites into orbit would be of great use to them. They agreed and named the task Project Babylon. The design included a barrel 150 metres long with a one-metre diameter. It definitely was not portable.

Also unfriendly with Iraq, Israel was informed of Project Babylon. The country objected, demanding Dr. Bull cease his efforts. (Iraq had also hired him to improve their SCUD missile system.) Dr. Bull did not listen. His apartment in Brussels was broken into several times. Someone was warning him of danger.

Dr. Bull was murdered

On March 22, 1990, Dr. Bull was assassinated outside his apartment by five bullets to the back of his head. The murderer remains unknown. Project Babylon and the supergun program disintegrated. Though he had factories creating the huge cannon parts and a team of scientists working for him, he kept the essential information in his own head. Dr. Bull’s body was returned to his homeland and buried in St. Bruno, Quebec.

The family life of Dr. Gerald Bull was not empty. He married Noemie Gilbert in 1954. The Bull family grew to seven children, some of whom followed their father’s footsteps and became scientists. Dr. Bull was not a war monger. He did not participate in wars. His concentration was the science and the challenge of accomplishing what had not been done before.

More indepth information about the fascinating Dr. Bull and his projects at CBC TV.

This article first appeared on Suite101.com in 2007.  Copyright Susanna McLeod

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