December 10, 1954: Dr. John Stapp - Testing Pioneer

  • Published
  • Air Force Flight Test Center

Lieutenant Colonel John Paul Stapp, M.D., reached a speed of 632mph within five seconds on the high-speed rocket sled test track at Holloman AFB, NM. Colonel Stapp, who had conducted his initial researches at Edwards AFB, was subjected to 19 G acceleration and 40 Gs deceleration during his ride on the Sonic Wind I rocket sled to test high-speed aircraft ejection systems.

Colonel John Paul Stapp, Doctor of Medicine and Doctor of Philosophy, was an American career U.S. Air Force officer, flight surgeon, physician, biophysicist, and pioneer in studying the effects of acceleration and deceleration forces on humans.  He was a colleague and contemporary of Chuck Yeager, and became known as "the fastest man on earth".   His work on Project Manhigh pioneered many developments for the US space program.

Born in Salvador de Bahia, Brazil, Stapp was the eldest of four sons of Reverend Charles Franklin Stapp and Mrs. Mary Louise Shannon, Baptist missionaries. He studied in Texas at Brownwood High School in Brownwood and San Marcos Baptist Academy in San Marcos.  In 1931, Stapp received a bachelor's degree from Baylor University in Waco, a Masters  of Arts Degree from Baylor in 1932, a PhD in Biophysics from the University of Texas at Austin in 1940, and an MD from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, in 1944. He interned for one year at St. Mary's Hospital in Duluth, Minnesota. Stapp was later awarded an honorary Doctor of Science from Baylor University..  Stapp entered the U.S. Army Air Forces on 5 October 1944 as a physician and qualified as a flight surgeon. On 10 August 1946, he was assigned to the Aero Medical Laboratory at Wright Field as a project officer and medical consultant in the Biophysics Branch and transferred to the U.S. Air Force when it became an independent service in September 1947.  His first assignment included a series of flights testing various oxygen systems in unpressurized aircraft at 40,000 feet. One of the major problems with high-altitude flight was the danger of "the bends" or decompression sickness. Stapp's work resolved that problem as well as many others, which allowed the next generation of high-altitude aircraft and the HALO insertion techniques. He was assigned to the deceleration project in March 1947.  In 1967, the Air Force loaned Stapp to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to conduct auto-safety research. He retired from the U.S. Air Force in 1970 with the rank of Colonel.


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