Saturday, September 28, 2013

Dr. Philip A. Lapp: 1928 - 2013

Dr. Philip Lapp; 1928 - 2013. Photo c/o Canadian Air & Space Museum.

          by Sarah Manea

One of the originators of our modern Canadian space industry has passed away after a long illness, on September 25th, in Toronto.
The first Canadarm, deployed as part of the STS-2 space shuttle mission in November 1981. Photo c/o Wikipedia.

Dr. Philip A. Lapp certainly accomplished a lot more than he is credited for, but he is best known for co-founding SPAR Aerospace, the firm responsible for the design and manufacture of the very first Canadarm.

He gave his nation the push necessary to expand the field of space sciences, and helped create new opportunities, and challenges for Canadian scientists and engineers. His active participation as leader of the Alouette team that built the first Canadian satellite helped us become the third nation in space, after the USSR and the United States.
Allouette 1.Photo c/o Defence Research and Development Canada.

Dr. Lapp was also one of four co-authors of a document entitled “Upper Atmosphere and Space Programs in Canada.” The document, written in 1967 and now known simply as the “Chapman Report,” recommended using Canadian satellite and space technology for commercial activities such as communications and resource management instead of focusing only on scientific research. Over time, the report became Canada’s original blueprint for space activities and remains an important reference document to this day.
The complete Chapman Report is available online here.

His guidance and expertise helped “launch Canada into space,” but even scientists and engineers working in the field were sometimes not fully aware of his great contributions.

On top of everything else, he worked towards the establishment of what was then called the Canadian Astronautical Society and is known today as the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute (CASI). When he had time to spare, Phil Lapp would contribute his time and expertise as a board member for the Canadian Air and Space Museum, in Toronto. "His hand was in so many of these different things that we now attribute to our Canadian air and space program," said Robert Godwin, the museum’s space curator.

Lapp’s work was not exclusive to Canada, and his intelligence has been demonstrated on American aerospace technology. He did not receive the necessary acknowledgment for his work on NASA’s early capsules, whereby he played an important role in the manufacturing and testing of antennae for the Apollo, Gemini, and Mercury capsules.
The CF-105 Avrow Arrow replica built by the Canadian Air & Space Museum in 2006. As outlined in the September 21st, 2013 CTV article "Plans underway to move historic Avrow Arrow replica for public show," the model is being relocated to the International Centre in Mississauga, ON. where it will be on public display during the Canadian Manufacturing & Technology Show , from September 30th to October 4th. Photo c/o Canadian Air & Space Museum.

His professional life was outstanding, and his family, friends, and acquaintances describe Dr. Lapp as a kind and approachable man. "But he had a common touch... He got along with everyone, “said his wife, during a recent interview.

Sarah Manea.
Philip Lapp was a Canadian space pioneer, as well as a man loved and respected by many. His ingenuity and modern mindset opened new doors for Canada in the world space industry, and made it known that Canadian space science and engineering is "world-class." Unfortunately, word of his contributions did not travel as far as necessary, but he must be remembered as the Canadian hero he truly is.

Sarah Manea is an aspiring astrophysicist, currently completing a specialist in physics and astronomy at the University of Toronto.


  1. Chuck;

    I was glad to see you include an obituary for Phil Lapp in your blog

    However, the author (Sarah Manea) included an erroneous statement, which she undoubtedly got from Peter Rakobowchuk’s CP obit of Phil (e.g.,, when she wrote, “His work heading the mechanical engineering section of the renowned CF 105 Avro Arrow helped put Canada on the international aerospace map.”

    That statement would have made Phil’s head spin.

    The CP reporter wrote this after misinterpreting something that one of Phil’s friends, Rob Godwin, said (I’ve checked with Rob and confirmed that *he* made no such claim). Unfortunately, many news purveyors printed Rakobowchuk’s article, and so this incorrect statement is in danger of becoming an internet meme of a sort. I’ve promised Phil’s widow to do what I can to fix this.

    Phil was *not* the head of mechanical engineering for the Avro Arrow. In order to hold that position, he would have had to work for A.V.Roe, the builder of the Arrow.

    Phil never worked for A.V.Roe. Indeed, for the first half of the Arrow program, he was working on his Ph.D. at MIT (1950-1954). After that he did indeed come back to Toronto, but not to work for A.V.Roe. He was recruited by DeHavilland Canada (DHC) to head their new missile guidance section (which they called their Special Products division).

    Where the confusion may have arisen, was that while running Special Products at DHC, Phil did do work on the Velvet Glove missile program, for the Canadian defence research establishment at Valcartier, who were in charge of developing the Velvet Glove. This air-to-air missile was intended to be the main weapon carried by the Arrow.

    So, in that sense, Phil did work related to the Arrow. Another possible source of confusion, is that in the early 1960s Phil’s group (which by then had acquired the Applied Research subsidiary of A.V.Roe, and thus had become DHC’s Special Products and Applied Research (SPAR) division), became the co-prime-contractor for the Alouette 1 satellite, being developed by the Defence Research Telecommunications Establishment in Ottawa, led by John Chapman. DRTE hired two “prime” contractors, DHC to develop the mechanical subsystems of Alouette, and RCA Montreal to develop the electronics subystems. *That’s* an important program for which Phil was in charge of the mechanical engineering.

    Phil Lapp accomplished a lot in his career, making several foundational contributions to aerospace in Canada. There’s no need to gild the lily by claiming that he was in charge of *everything.*

    - Kieran

    Dr. Kieran A. Carroll
    Chief Technology Officer
    Gedex Inc.

  2. Thanks for the heads up Kieran.

    The post has been updated with the new information.


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