Gerald Bull

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A photo of Bull taken in 1964.
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Gerald Vincent Bull (1928–1990) was a Canadian-American aeronautics engineer known for building some of the largest guns ever known to man.[1][2] Bull's goal was to revolutionize the space industry. However, that plan involved the sale of "thousands" of artillery shells to apartheid South Africa in violation of international embargoes. He served time in prison,[3] much to his surprise as he thought his buddies in the CIA would bail him out.[2] Bull built a "super gun" for Saddam Hussein, apparently to jumpstart Iraq's would be space program.[3] Ultimately, Bull was assassinated at his apartment in Belgium in 1990. Officially no one knows who did it, but we probably all know who it was.[3]

Shooting space[edit]

Bull was born to his father George and mother LaBrosse Bull, who died when Bull was only five years old. George had a nervous breakdown, so Gerald was raised by his older sister Bernice instead.[4] Despite this, Bull graduated high school at the age of 16 and got his doctorate in 1950 after successfully constructing a supersonic wind tunnel at the University of Toronto. Bull proceeded to work at the Canadian Armament and Research Development Establishment (CARDE) which, according to Space Guns, was "researching supersonic flight and various rocket and missile projects at the time.[4]

Bull was known for "bypassing" budgetary restrictions by "using scrap parts and shuffling money around between different projects." Bull became interested in shooting missiles out of guns, and would use model airplanes to test his concepts. This was received negatively by Bull's superiors after he "embarrassed the Prime Minister of Canada by leaking a story to the newspapers that the country was working on plans to put high-velocity guns in the noses of missiles.[4]

Bull resigned in 1961.[note 1] A post-resignation report noted that "...his tempestuous nature and strong dislike for administration and red tape constantly led him into trouble with senior management."[4]

Bull moved on to work at McGill University, where he attracted the attention of the American government. The US was interested in Bull's work, and so supplied him with a "16 inch naval cannon" for him to test. There was one problem though: Bull's "Highwater station wasn't big enough to support the massive gun." To get around this, Bull found a promising spot, a meteorological station, in Barbados. He worked out a deal with the Barbadian PM to secure permission to fire his big fuckoff cannon, and work proceeded shortly thereafter, with only minor hiccups along the way.[4][note 2]

Duncan Geere explains what happened next:

On January 20, 1963, under a clear blue sky, the first shot was fired. A 694-pound [315-kilogram] wooden slug was propelled over 1.8 miles [3,000 meters] into the air, flying for 58 seconds before landing about a half mile [one kilometer] off-shore. It was a complete success, so two further scheduled test firings were abandoned, and preparations were made to fire real projectiles.[4]

The next day a Martlet-1 would be fired "to an altitude of 16 miles [26 kilometers] with a flight time of 145 seconds."[4] They actually had to attach a radio beacon to this thing just to track it. The day after that, the next round traveled over a distance of 16.8 miles, or 27 kilometers.[4]

The tests revealed problems with the powder, however, which was quickly replaced. The new powder would enable a record altitude of over 57 miles (91 kilometers) for a "gun-launched projectile."[4]

This wasn't purely for the thrills, as Space Guns explains:

The Martlet was equipped with electronics that released chemical markers at set altitudes, leaving a smoke trail through the sky that could be used to measure upper-level winds. Some used additional electronics to measure magnetic fields.[4]

Bull later wrote about this:

The idea was to find out what happens in the atmosphere from sunset to sunrise. Remember, nobody gave us grants. We had to produce tropical atmospheric meteorological [data] for the army research office, that’s how we got our money. We were trying to measure everything to the top of the atmosphere, which we labeled as a nominal two hundred kilometers.[4]

This was all just a prelude to Bull's real dream however: building guns to launch shit into space.[4] After "extending the gun" and refining the powder to "be contained for a longer period of time and slowing the acceleration," Bull and his team clinched it. They fired a projectile to an altitude of "just short" of 112 miles, or 180 kilometers. This is a record that remains unbeaten to this day.[4]

However, opposition to Bull's work was growing. The US government lost permission to continue the tests, and the Canadian government cut funding.[4]

Bull did have an ace up his sleeve though, as Space Guns explains:

A clause in his contract required McGill to return the test sites to their original condition at the end of the lease, and his Highwater station had grown into a major scientific facility. Returning it to its original condition of a scrubby piece of land down a dirt road would have cost the university millions of dollars.[4]

Bull proposed that McGill transfer the facilities over to his ownership, and the university agreed.[4] However, Bull needed funding. By the 1970s, astronautics programs had moved on from gun-launched projectiles to rocketry. Bull did what any weapons engineer would do when they lacked state or significant private backing: arms dealing.[4]

Arms dealing[edit]

Bull formed the "Space Research Corporation of Quebec" to fund his ballsy project to shoot space. He made deals with the Canadian and American military-industrial complexes to "develop artillery systems," and sold arms to South Africa, Israel, and the US for the better part of a decade.[4] However, because of a growing international embargo against South Africa, Bull was arrested for his arms dealing and sentenced to prison when he just expected to pay a fine.[4] Bull would continue to sell weapons to South Africa even after being released.[5]

Fed up with governmental interference in his arms trafficking scheme, Bull moved to Belgium where he continued selling arms without governmental scrutiny.[5] He made deals with both China and Iraq.[4]

Saddam's supergun[edit]

Beginning in 1985, Saddam's Iraq would buy hundreds of artillery shells from Bull.[6] Bull also began work on improving Iraq's general artillery program. To quote the The New York Times:

Having proved themselves in the Iran-Iraq War, the guns now pose a serious threat to the multinational task force based in Saudi Arabia. In addition, Bull designed for Iraq two mammoth guns mounted on wheeled vehicles that were unveiled at the Baghdad Arms Fair last year [1989].[6]

After working on Iraq's artillery program, he managed to convince Saddam that Iraq would "never be a real military power without the capability for space launches."[4] Bull offered to share his expertise from his time shooting shit into space, and Saddam agreed.[4]

Bull's so-called "supergun" would've been the magnum opus of both his career and Iraq's artillery fleet.[6]

Two weeks after Bull's assassination, British agents seized "eight huge steel tubes" designed to fit into a 60 meter long gun barrel. These tubes were part of the so-called "Operation Babylon," which involved millions of dollars and illicit Iraqi operations to fund and construct this gigantic abomination of weapons engineering.[6]

The gun itself would've fired satellites from a "156-meter long barrel" embedded into a hillside.[5]

According to Space Guns, the gun design would've been "512 feet [156 meters] long, weighed 4.6 million pounds [2,100 tonnes], and had a 3.3-foot [one-meter] diameter. It was designed to be capable of placing a 4,410-pound [2,000-kilogram] projectile into orbit."[4]

The Iraqis saw how desperate Bull was to build this giant compensation device, and added an extra condition to the deal. In exchange for building this big fuckoff cannon, Bull would improve Iraq's long-range Scuds missile program.[4][note 3]


After several non-robbery break-ins into his apartment, Bull was ultimately assassinated with a silenced gun on March 22, 1990 at his Belgian apartment.[7] This assassination had all the hallmarks of a professional hit: no one heard the gunshots, no one heard the body slump to the floor, no one saw the hitman, and over twenty thousand dollars were left untouched in Bull's apartment.[6][note 4]

Unfortunately, over his career Bull effectively pissed off pretty much everyone (CIA, MI6, Chilean, Syrian, Iraqi, or South African governments) with the capacities to pull off this kind of hit.[2] For example, because he was building the biggest dick ever known his supergun in Britain,[6] it could've been the Brits for all we know.[2] Still, the best bets are probably on Mossad[3] due to Bull's cooperation with Ba'athist Iraq.


  1. In an argument over paperwork of all things.
  2. Read: the Cuban Missile Crisis.Wikipedia
  3. This is what likely got Bull assassinated.[2]
  4. Likely intentionally to signal this was a hit and not an assassination.


  1. Gerald Bull, 62, Shot in Belgium; Scientist Who Violated Arms Law. Archived from The New York Times, 25 March 1990.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Evans, Robert (1/20/2022). "The Man Who Built A Gun To Shoot Space". Behind the Bastards. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Mounbar, Bethany (June 4, 2014). "Ex­hibit brings Ger­ald Bull back to light". Barton Chronicle. 
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 4.14 4.15 4.16 4.17 4.18 4.19 4.20 4.21 4.22 4.23 Space Guns: A History of the Least Subtle Way of Getting Into Space[a w]Medium
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Park, William (17th March 2016, 08:25 EDT). "The tragic tale of Saddam Hussein's 'supergun'". BBC. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 "The Man Behind Iraq's Supergun" - The New York Times.
  7. "Who killed Gerald Bull?" by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation