As you arrive in Barbados at the international airport you would hardly guess that an intriguing, and controversial, piece of history lies just a short distance away! This is the story of the HARP Gun...
The HARP gun, also known as the High Altitude Research Project gun, is an intriguing piece of technology. The gun was built in the 1960s by Canadian engineer Gerald Bull with the goal of being a satellite launch system. Bull had developed the idea to launch satellites into orbit using massive cannon, and as it turns out Barbados' geographical location make it the ideal site for testing and refining the idea. Close political ties between Barbados and Canada helped as well!
The 16-inch gun barrels arrived at Foul Bay Beach in 1962 and were transported to the HARP site via a train carriage and specially laid tracks that had to be moved and relaid throughout the 2 mile journey.
The HARP gun was capable of firing a projectile at a velocity of up to 7,000 feet per second, making it one of the most powerful guns in the world. Several smaller guns were added at the site later.
The HARP gun firing was quite the experience for Barbados residents, with the loud explosive launch heard across nearly the entire island, and land shaking and windows rattling for miles. Nearby residents and businesses reported cracks developing in their structures.
The project achieved many successes, but in 1967 the Canadian government and U.S. Army withdrew their financial support due to domestic pressures, the Vietnam war, and NASA's preference for traditional rockets for space launches. This lead to the abandonment of the HARP project in Barbados.
Gerald Bull was always a controversial character. He went on to develop military guns but was ultimately convicted of international arms dealing and spent time in prison. His later work with the Iraq government led by Saddam Hussein may have been the cause of his final downfall. In 1990 Bull was assassinated outside his Brussels home, an act widely believed to have been conducted by Israeli Mossad agents.
Today, the HARP gun lies idle and rusting, but it remains a testament to the incredible ingenuity and scientific curiosity of the human race.
You can visit the HARP gun but you'll likely need a guide to find it. You should also be aware that the area is used for live firing exercises so caution should be observed - a red flag is flown when such exercises are taking place.
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The HARP gun is a fascinating reminder of mankind's relentless pursuit of knowledge and our willingness to push the limits of what is possible.