Col. John Paul Stapp 1910 - 1999
Dr. John Paul (Col.) Stapp, surgeon, former Air Force Officer, was born in Bahia, Brazil, July 11, 1910. Dr. Stapp earned the title "The Fastest Man Alive" when he rode the famed "Sonic Wind I" rocket-propelled sled on December 10, 1954 to a land record speed of 632 mph in 5 seconds. Dr. Stapp sustained the greatest g-force endured by man in recorded deceleration tests up to that time.
Dr. Stapp died at his home in Alamogordo, NM on November 13, 1999.
Dr. Stapp was the son of the Rev. and Mrs. Charles F. Stapp. His preliminary education was obtained at the Brownwood High School, Brownwood, Texas. He received his BA degree in 1931 from Baylor University, Waco, TX and his MA degree form Baylor in 1932. Dr. Stapp received his PhD from the University of Texas, Austin, TX in 1940 and his MD degree from the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1944. He completed his medical internship at St. Mary's Hospital in Duluth, MN.
On December 23, 1957, Dr. Stapp married Lillian Lanese, a former soloist with the Ballet Theater of New York City. Dr. Stapp entered Military Service on October 5,
1944. He completed the Medical Field Service
School at Carlisle Barracks, Carlisle, PA and his
medical residency at the Regional Hospital, Lincoln
Army Air Base, Lincoln, NE. He was then assigned
to Pratt Army Air Base, Pratt, KS as a General
duty medical officer. Dr. Stapp attended the School of Aviation Medicine, Randolph Field, San Antonio, TX and
received his Aviation Medical Examiner designation.
On August 10, 1946, Dr. Stapp was transferred to
the Aero Medical Laboratory as project officer and medical consultant in the Bio-Physics Branch. His first assignment included a series of flights to test various oxygen systems in unpressurized aircraft at 40,000 feet. He was assigned to the deceleration project in March, 1947. It was during this deceleration project that Dr. Stapp rode the Sonic Wind I on December 10, 1954 to a land record speed of 632 mph in 5 seconds. The project was essential in improving the survivability of aircraft occupants in the event of a crash. Dr. Stapp has received wide acclaim for his development of safer seat belt technology.
Col. Stapp being
prepared for his famous
ride. Assisting him are
engineers and technicians
at Holloman Air Force
Base, New Mexico.
Stapp personally made 27
of the 73 manned sled
tests conducted as part of
the deceleration project.
The "Sonic Wind I" high speed sled is now on display at The Space Center. This is the sled that Dr. Stapp rode to record breaking speeds in the deceleration project. The sled reached 632 miles per hour, decelerating to zero in a second and a quarter (1¼ sec) with a force of more than forty Gs. His momentary body weight became 6,800 pounds. The wind blast at this speed was equivalent to a high-altitude ejection at supersonic speed.
A closer picture of the riding seat of the Sonic Wind I.
Out of these many sled runs came improved helmets, arm and leg restraints, better aircraft
seats, and stronger safety harnesses. Many lives have been saved thanks to Dr. Stapp's personal sacrifice and the dedication of the entire project crew. Dr. Stapp himself suffered several retinal hemorrhages, cracked ribs, and two broken wrists. The second broken wrist he set himself while walking back to the laboratory after a ride.
A rear view of the numerous rocket engines that pushed the high speed sled down the track.
A photo of Dr. Stapp at The Space Center. He was a frequent and most welcomed visitor to the Center.
The Bopper Sled (crash-restraint
demonstrator), a bungie-cord
powered short track sled with
controlled deceleration by means
of adjustable mechanical breaking
(in storage at the Museum
Support Center). The Bopper,
designed by Dr. Stapp, has been
used with dummy, animal, and
human subjects to study
deceleration with a variety of
safety restraints, at forces ranging
up to and slightly above
You had balls of steel Dr. Stapp. I salute you. Godspeed.