Extreme Motion Tests Brought Aerospace Safety Innovation (.PDF Download)

May 5, 2017
Extreme Motion Tests Brought Aerospace Safety Innovation (.PDF Download)

John’s 632-mph ride came to a stop in just 1.4 seconds. When it was over, he had suffered a few broken ribs, a pair of busted wrists, and windburn on his face. The blood vessels in his eyes burst, the retinas detached from the force of the stop, and he went blind for 45 minutes, wondering if his sight would ever return. Still, he was alive, and he walked away from the test with a smile, knowing that humans could survive an impact of 40 Gs or more without dying.  

No, that’s not an excerpt from a Tom Clancy novel, but rather the real-life escapades of Colonel John Stapp, who pioneered tests on the effects of sudden deceleration on the human body for military pilots at the beginning of the jet age in 1945. His tests were derived from a series of questions pertaining to whether or not pilots could survive ejecting out of a damaged aircraft traveling at near supersonic speeds or live through a forceful impact (aka, crash).

It’s safe to say Stapp’s entire career was filled with death-defying tests right from the get-go, but his results brought about innovation in both aircraft and vehicle safety. In 1944 he enlisted in the Army Air Corps as a physician, and shortly afterward was assigned to Aero Medical Laboratory, where he underwent a series of flights to test different oxygen systems to combat altitude and decompression sickness.

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