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HARP-ing on a memory

Carlton Brathwaite (right) with his best friend, Prime Minister Errol Barrow. (GP)


Published on: 4/23/2010.


SAY THE NAME Carlton Brathwaite, and Barbadians who grew up in the 1960s will almost always think "HARP gun".

For just as the name of Dr Gerry Bull brings back memories of the once controversial High Altitude Research Project (HARP) undertaken with Canadians, the name Carlton Brathwaite reminds Barbadians of a period in the island's history that Brathwaite considers a lost opportunity for Barbados, a time when, in his view, the island was poised for great things and a great future in scientific research.

Sitting in his well appointed, upscale West Coast home yesterday, Brathwaite talked about his exciting life as an engineer, his association with McGill University and its projects worldwide, including the High Altitude Research Project conceptualised by the brilliant Canadian scientist Dr Gerry Bull, and his lifelong bond with National Hero, the Right Excellent Errol Barrow.

He mused: "Today, if Barbados had gone along with the track that the HARP project was on, this island would have been so advanced . . . just for political gain . . . they destroyed a project.

"We did more research over the skies of Barbados than most countries in the world with that gun. We had plans . . . Today I believe Barbados would have been a tax-free country because we would have made so much money."

As a lanky six-foot school boy, Brathwaite left Foundation School and worked in Barbados briefly before heading off to McGill University to study engineering. There he met a Professor McKay and Donald Mordell, Dean of Engineering, who both encouraged him to return home to work for two years on a project which McGill was conducting in Barbados.

Brathwaite ended up devoting 20 years of his life to the HARP project, rising though the ranks from a junior engineer to vice-president of Space Research Corporation, the successor company.

The goal of the HARP project was the development of a satellite launcher on a site close to the equator, to take advantage of the extra velocity imparted on such a launcher by the earth's rotation. At 13° north of the equator, Barbados was the ideal choice. It also provided expansive downrange area over the Atlantic ocean for the safe impact of missiles.

"We have the record for the highest altitude of a single vehicle which is a gun launch probe of just 121 miles of the atmosphere . . . that is still the highest record in the Guinness Book Of Records," Brathwaite proudly observed.

The 119-foot-long gun, which transformed the cliff-side site at Paragon, Christ Church, to resemble a modern space launch complex, also became the target of political criticism and provoked anger from residents of the surrounding areas, who claimed structural damage to their homes as a result of firings. For many years during and after the project, questions were raised in other countries about its true intent.

Today Brathwaite dismisses those concerns.

The project in Barbados ended in 1976, mired in political controversy, but decades later Brathwaite insists there is still misrepresentation about who was responsible for bringing the HARP project to Barbados.

Seeking to clear the air, he stated bluntly: "The HARP project started here in 1960. They always say that Errol Barrow brought HARP to Barbados. Errol Barrow was not in power until December 1961", said Brathwaite, adding that Dr Cummins was then the Premier in a Barbados Labour Party Government. "So it was really in Cummins' time."

The association with McGill took Brathwaite around the globe and it brought him into contact with world figures. At one time, he lived in Baghdad, where he worked with a similar project, and he was often the luncheon guest of late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein himself, beside the River Tigris.

His work brought him into contact with key figures in countries like China. He was also in charge of the Barbados Oceanographic and Meteorological Experiment (BOMEX), a project at Paragon engaging scientists from around the world.

He retired at age 42, "burnt out", Brathwaite says, from the constant shuttling between London, Canada, Brussels, Israel. "I had had enough. I woke up one morning in a hotel room and I did not know where I was."

Brathwaite was often identified as "Barrow's right-hand man". He talks of first meeting the young politician, while working as structural engineer on the quayside of the Deep Water Harbour Project.

"I think he liked my attitude because I was young and different . . . When he became Premier, Dipper used to come at my house every morning before 4:30 and 5:00 and we would sit in that veranda and plan what we would do for the day or the night. It was a very interesting relationship.

"Errol Barrow was my best friend. He and Gerry Bull were my mentors. People say I used to advise Barrow. That is not true. I could not advise Barrow. Barrow was too bright. My relationship with Barrow was more social than political. He had a separate social life from his political life."

Brathwaite shared that social life, often flying with Barrow on recreational flights, and he even claims to have learnt the excellent cooking skills exercised during his constant entertaining, from Barrow himself.

The father of five, now in his 70s, is still debonair and dapper. Admitting to having lived life in the fast lane, often hobnobbing with the rich and famous, Brathwaite spends his retirement years travelling, entertaining many of the friends from across the globe, whose friendships were cultivated during his McGill association.

The rich and famous still seek him out to socialise when they fly to Barbados in their private jets or sail in on their yachts. His continues to be an exciting life and he keeps fit with a regimen of exercise, working out at a hotel gym near his home.

"I had a good life outside of Barbados," he remarked. The good life continues in retirement.

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23 comment found!

Re: BREAD&TWO : 4/24/2010
I believe what Mr. Brathwaite is trying to convey is that Barbados had a lead in sourcing science and cutting edge technology to the island. Ofcourse this wouldn't have been the only process and likely had the project continued it may have led towards new avenues of research to be undertaken in Barbados. After all Intel Corporation was lured to Barbados too due to the potential of the local population. The Canadian banks also had based all of their regional operations in Barbados too well into the 1990s too. I think Barbadians would be better off in science and technology jobs than hospitality jobs for the foreseeable future. Nothing is wrong with hotel and tourism type jobs but, I think Barbadians are smart enough to be able to handle more high-end employment. I totally agree with Mr. Brathwaite and we need more vision of what and where this country should go. Barbados is coming up on it's 50th anniversary of independence soon. When we look back and reflect what will be our full list of accomplishments for the first 50 years?

J. Payne

Don't blame Bull : 4/24/2010
It is unfair to slam the HARP Project or its research achievements due to the resentments, grudges and misinformation that some in Barbados still have about it. The FACT remains that Gerry Bull was very close to launching satellites in orbit from a gun at one tenth the cost the Americans and others did it for with rockets. Imagine if Barbados competed against Cape Canaveral to launch satellites. HARP was a threat to the US/NATO/ISREALI defense/space industry business and Bull looked for funding elsewhere. Unfortunately he went to the wrong people and paid for it. All the documentaries, media and news stories never really looked at this stark reality. To this day, The Defense/Space Industry/business is controlled by US/Nato/Russia. Only recently have the Chinese stepped into it. Bull was an outsider to the "club" and irritated the wrong people. Same thing happened to Canada with their Avro Arrow Fighter Plane project of the 60s. Look deeper, do research and don't believe everything you watch on TV or read in the papers.

James OBrien

: 4/24/2010
The timing of this article interests me. What with all the gun talk, gun play and personalities highlighted recently! What ever became of Angela Cole, the author of some book?
Double U

Be truthful : 4/23/2010
I posted a blog about this subject(HARP) on April 16, 2010 under the caption "Cloud Cover"(check daily RSS feed). I think Carlton Brathwaite is bending the truth a little, about his dealings with HARP. Mr. Brathwaite states that he retired early because of "burn out" and because he woke up one morning in a hotel room and did not know where he was. Could it be that that was a warning for him to quit or else? The main character in this story is Dr. Gerald(Gerry)Bull, who was assassinated in Brussels in March 1980. For the true story about HARP, google Gerald or Gerry Bull. As for Carlton Brathwaite who is now living a life of luxury,at the expense of the many people, whose lives and properties he disrupted in Barbados, I hope that those memories will haunt him for the rest of his life.

Tamarind Rod

: 4/23/2010
Sorry to have to say this....Two Zee you are right on. I came to Canada in the 60's and was very surprised to view a documentary on a local TV Channel about this gun in my home land...And yes that group of people were involved with this project....they had a whole lot to do with the testing,because it was under test for them,for whatever purpose, you are free to guess.BARBADOS and by extention, Barbadians were being taken for a free"ride". There is more to it than we were told/led to believe.

Bajan in Toronto

HARP-ing on a memory : 4/23/2010
This is a bunch of HOG WASH .Who was BULL? Why was he Murdered?Who was he really building this gun for?Carlton Brathwaite don't even have a clue in what he was involved in.Ask the Jews about BULL and his GUN.Why was BULL and his GUN kicked out of the USA?I heard the real reason for that gun and in who's hand it was supposed to be in.


Carlton Brathwaithe : 4/23/2010
How do you really spell your name.You did have an exciting life.I recently met a Mc Gill Graduate from Mc Donald College.He told me Dean Donald Mordell died in Africa,maybe a mosquito,Bull was exterminated.Dr.Tony Ward went to New Zealand In those days the sun shone and I was younger my first meeting with you was in 1956 or there about you were at the deep water harbour. Professor Lewis has also gone need the record to confirm.Every thing about Barbados was dazzling .Bonne Dundee,The blue waters Hotel,Bruce Aimes,The Merry men.Ricky Francis.Peter Morgan,Donkey carts on the streets of Bridgetown,girls were also beautiful,yes and there was some corruption,and the whore houses on Fairchilds streets ,by the way can any one tell me who was this Fairchild..part of missing history,dont forget the small barber shops made of cardboard boxes...Dont forget the hilmman hunter X1648..You did not own X1 that belonged to Majorie Phillips father..Who was Majorie Phillips..All of these evnts hapened within the last fifty glorious days..When you write your book you must open your hand ,it would be fascinating reading..I must admit it could be mote interesting tha anything Tom Clark could write I woul be the first to buy a copy..

Very Few Persons in Barbados Could have a more exciting life

HARP-ing on a memory : 4/23/2010
This is a very interesting report to Barbadians today who really dont know the truth about the HARP project. About ten years ago a documentary on NOVA revealed what the HARP project in Barbadis was all about. Ironically,the comment in the Nation that states "Today, if Barbados had gone along with the track that the HARP project was on, this island would have been so advanced . . . just for political gain . . . they destroyed a project. "We did more research over the skies of Barbados than most countries in the world with that gun. We had plans . . . Today I believe Barbados would have been a tax-free country because we would have made so much money." That is such a gross mis-representations of the original objective of the project. The project was to design a missile for the US Military, but the gun was later sold to China, and then to Iraq and is now known as the "SCUD MISSILE. If Barbados had continued and was benefitting financially from the project while the Scud was being shot at Israel, Barbados would no longer exist. The SCUD was considered a weapon of Mass destruction.

Ervin Springer

a memory : 4/23/2010
this whole project was a big failure sure it served a small self serving group but in the big picture it did nothing for BIM.Caused lots of damage,where in any journal would we find any contribution to science? If there was one project we could do without this was it. The only claim to fame is some minute Guiness Book world record.


HARP-ing on a memory : 4/23/2010
[Brathwaite]"Sitting in his well appointed, upscale West Coast home...he lived in Baghdad, where he worked with a similar project, and he was often the luncheon guest of late Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein himself, beside the River Tigris...He retired at age 42, burnt out..Brathwaite spends his retirement years travelling, entertaining"
All I can say is that I am glad that I am not where Saddam is this morning, and I am glad that I am long past 42 and unlike Braf I am not anywhere near burnt out. And can Ms. Carter tell us exactly what it is that Braf did for a living that he spent ONLY 20 years in the work force and at 70+ can still afford to travel, entertain, and live in a well appointed upscale West coast house.
Maybe just maybe Barbados decided not to go the way of arms manufacturing and selling, maybe just maybe Barbados made the RIGHT decision.


Harp Gun : 4/23/2010
After reading this report,i tell you my view from my research.This harp gun as it is call seem like a grande thing in bubbadus at that time but in reality it was a health hazzard to the enviorment.i made my research and i have discovered that this gun when fired in the atomosphere could cause earthquake in other countries depends on the altitude.The gentleman Mr.Brathwaite have done a good work for babbadus but the truth is this gun was a BIG problem that is why the project was close ,not b'cause barbados not wanting it, but it was too high risk to continue.The politics involved was England,South Africa ,America and little Bubbadus.There is much i can tell you but i want you to do your own research.Don't let them fool ya.

Ras Simon

Harping on a memory : 4/23/2010
Mr. Brathwaite I wonder if all those people who had their home damaged during your research ever got compensated???

Grand son asking a question

: 4/23/2010
J. Payne, keep Owen Arthur and his comments about Jamaica out of this... he once advised a Jamaican PM. Go figure.

: 4/23/2010
My friend...always liked him...candid person and for real.
Bajan chick in US...soon returning home.

Only Aston Martin ever on the island! : 4/23/2010
Thank you so much for the clarification, the history of it all. Nice to hear some positivity re. the HARP thing, for a change!
Everyone likes to imagine skullduggery (negative dummies with no life..)

ex-Bellairs Res. employee

Don't believe it . : 4/23/2010
There was a lot more to the HARP project than
Mr.Bratheaite is letting us know about. I remember the project pretty well and quite a lot of houses in the region of Paragon ,Ch.Ch ended up with a lot of "hairline cracks ' in the walls etc,etc. Were the owners ever compensated for the damages done by the Gun ?

Bom Boom

HARP-ing on a memory : 4/23/2010
This man is still living in the 60's if he would take his head out of the clouds and look at the facts he would see that this project was useless. To this day the damage is still there. How did This project benifit Bim he retired at 42 or were you just running scared? You mention Iraq and brussel the head of this project went to work for Saddam and he was gunned down like a dog in the streets of Brussells. He was a Soldier of fortune. And for the damage they caused here in Bim they all should have been sued. If this project was so good show us the proof a record in some book.


Write a book. : 4/23/2010
You seem to had an exciting life so go
back to Canada or the US and have a book

Of interest. : 4/23/2010
In recent years, there has been a group in Guyana advocating for that Republic to consider political association with the United States of America. One of the reasons cited is due to the fact that they are 4 degrees north of the equator and they have a belief that if Guyana enters the American federation they could act as a new space/satellite launching area rivaling Cape Canaveral. [ Source: ] This could a boom for Guyana as you already have the European Space Agency a few hundred miles to the east in Cayenne, French Guiana. With that being the case both space agencies would have funneled all kinds of space research into that part of South America. See also:

J. Payne

If you couple this with the solar energy research..... : 4/23/2010
If you couple this along with the solar energy research being undertaken in the late 1970s (and early 80s even) with some folks out of Israel, then Barbados could be way more advanced as a knowledge based economy by now. That would have done way more for the country instead of all these remedial jobs that are being pushed around here now by the government. The country has lost its way as can be observed by the fact that it is tumbling down the U.N. Human Development Index of late. More and more countries which Barbados once had a lead over (Spain, and other parts of Europe, and Asia even) have overtaken Barbados and continue to rise. Barbados needs to return to a national development strategy first and a CARICOM policy second because as Owen Arthur said a couple months ago countries like Jamaica don't even seem like they need CARICOM sometimes.

J. Payne

: 4/23/2010
How utterly condescending. I feel to spit.

HARP : 4/23/2010
Memories. HARP was an outstanding experience for quite a few Barbadians and Carlton Brathwaite was an inspiration. I learnt from him that there was no need to be shy or embarrassed about being a manager and to be highly organised. He gave a small group of young physics students real responsibility at HARP. There were nights when we had as many as nine launches and by morning you were so tired you could hardly walk.... and there was no overtime payment. I was extremely proud to see a BBC documentary on HARP a few years ago and what caught my eye was the railing around the gun pit. In 1966 I was assigned a welder, a driver/handyman, a truck and pointed in the direction of a pile of metal and told that my task was to design and build a railing around the gun pit. At age 22, I had to learn fast how to manage persons older and more skilled and knowledgeable than myself.
I wish Carlton Brathwaite, his brother, and all of the other persons I worked with at HARP, during the summers of 1965 and 1966, well.


Harp gun : 4/23/2010
Sir,after reading this article,I ask do you all know the real reason for this project represent?It is known the this type of gun was used in South Africa during the years of the white copntroll to excavate the diamonds and gold and other precious minerals from the earth.the main reason how ever was it used to cause earthquake in other countries when fired in the atomosphere,i respect the gentleman for his work but this project would have put barbados in alot of danger today ,it was a good riddance.*DO YOUR RESEARCH ON THIS PROJECT*

Ras Simon


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