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Colonel John Stapp The Human Crash Test Dummy

Updated July 26, 2012

Colonel John Stapp was the original Jackass. He makes Johnny Knoxville and Steve-O look like playschool children. We’re talking about a man that volunteered his body and well being for the sake of scientific research for the American Air Force.

His first assignment as a project officer included testing a variety of oxygen systems in unpressurized aircraft at 40,000 feet or 12.2 km. Stapp’s involvement in those experiments resulted in solving the issue of decompression sickness along with a slew of other dangerous problems facing high altitude flight situations. Eventually he moved on to the deceleration project in March 1947.

Before this project it was assumed that the human body couldn’t withstand more than 18 g. That was until Stapp strapped himself into the Human Decelerator, nicknamed Gee Whiz by the team. The Human Decelerator was a 1,500-pound carriage mounted on a 2,000-foot long standard gauge railroad track supported on a heavy concrete bed. It had a 45-foot hydraulic braking system believed to be one of the most powerful ever constructed. The carriage was secured to the rails. Mounted at the back of the carriage were 1,000-lbf rockets to propel the carriage. The brakes? Partitioned bins of water. The runs on this track began and Stapp had them go faster and faster. And then in December of 1954 Stapp hit the speed of 632mph and the carriage was brought to a stop in less than a second. His eyes literally almost popped out of their sockets. He is eyes were bleeding because every blood vessel had burst. Stapp. He suffered lingering eye issues from some blood vessels being permanently damaged. But that day Stapp set a record by subjecting himself to 46.2 times the force of gravity.

There were any number of experiments performed back then. Several men volunteered and many of them were disabled by the experiments they were involved in. But Stapp and his balls of impenetrable steel survived each and every experiment.

But it was his interest and concern for the safety in car drivers that became a new passion for Colonel John Stapp. His ensuing experiments resulted in the invention of the vehicle seatbelt. And one of his greatest moments came in 1966 when Stapp was recognized for his work and invited to witness President Lyndon B. Johnson sign into law the mandatory requirement for automakers to install all cars with seatbelts. This concern and research into saving human lives in the event of car accidents has only grown over the decades. And anyone who has ever been involved in an accident and was saved by their seatbelt owes Colonel John Stapp a debt of gratitude.

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Calvin Escobar
About Calvin Escobar

The Car scene is so diverse Where I come from, most enthusiasts recognize the amazing engineering (particularly the engines). The bulk of the ridicule originates from the manner in which many of the vehicles are modded/maintained. Thus, the jokes and or hate tends to be aimed more at the owner rather than the machine. All of which makes seeing properly sorted old Toyota's and Hondas at car meets, auto shows, and track days all the more refreshing.

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