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Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Father of Canadian rocketry dies at 89 

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Tue Jun 8 2004

By Kevin Rollason
THE man known as the father of Canadian rocketry has died.

Albert Fia, 89, died on Saturday.

Fia, who retired in 1980 as a vice-president at Bristol Aerospace,
developed the Black Brant rockets in the early 1960s.

The rockets are still used for sub-orbital research by NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), as well as other universities and government agencies in the United States and round the world.

"He really is the father of rocketry in Canada," Joe Tharayil, Bristol's retired director of engineering, said yesterday. "It (the Black Brant) is one of the many things Bristol has done, but this was Bristol's own design and development."

Tharayil said the rocket was developed and built in Winnipeg to be launched in Churchill for research into the northern lights. Since 1962, more than 800 Black Brants have been launched.

Fia was born in Lethbridge and served in the Second World War.

He joined Bristol in 1958, after a second stint with the Canadian army, during which he attended the Royal Military College of Science in England and Laval University, where he earned his engineering degree.

Fia, in a letter he wrote to the Free Press in 2002, said because Black Brants had been launched on scientific missions from ranges in Canada, the United States, Europe, Brazil, Australia and Africa, "not only has Black Brant contributed to the understanding of space, but it is a valuable export commodity.

"Bristol remains the only company that produces the rocket with the payload, fuels the motors at its plant at Rockwood, and assists in the launch phase."

In 1981, after Fia retired, NASA honoured him for his "dynamic leadership in the development of solid propellant motors and rockets" by giving him the Public Service Award, the first ever awarded to a citizen of another country than the United States. Keith Koehler, a spokesman for NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, Va., where many Black Brants are launched now, said the best commendation for the rockets is "the vehicles are still in the air."

Koehler said the rocket has been used to launch numerous experiments, including planetary telescopes and cosmic ray detectors.
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