Colonel John Stapp: The Fastest Man on Earth

In today’s post, I’m going to share 8 cool facts about Colonel John Stapp. If you’ve never heard of him before, you are in for a big surprise.

Although Colonel Stapp was not an Army guy, he was a highly respected career Air Force Officer. He was also a flight surgeon, physician, biophysicist, and respected colleague of the legend Chuck Yeager. He was often referred to as “The Fastest Man On Earth.”

Do yourself a favor, sit back, and learn more about Colonel Stapp’s amazing life.

colonel john stapp

Colonel John Stapp: 8 Cool Facts

Colonel John Stapp attended Baylor University, the University of Texas, and the University of Minnesota: Twin Cities. He served in the military from 1944 to 1970 and retired as a Colonel. He passed away peacefully in 1999. What you see below are some of the really cool things I found out about him online.

# 1: He Came from Brazil

Colonel Stapp was born in Brazil and later migrated to the United States.

John Paul Stapp was born in Bahia, Brazil on July 11, 1910, the son of missionaries (his father was president of the American Baptist College in Bahia). Both of his parents were teachers and taught John at home until he was twelve. He was then enrolled in Brownwood High School, (now the San Marcos Academy) in Brownwood, Texas. Initially, Stapp wished to be a writer, but in 1928, the tragic death of an infant cousin convinced him to pursue a career in medicine. ~ NM Space Museum

# 2: Stopping The Bends

The first assignment Stapp had was working with the issues of decompression sickness (the bends) in high altitude flights. He developed an oxygen system that solved the issue which is still used to this day.

# 3: Helping Pilots Survive Plane Crashes

Colonel John Stapp made monumental contributions to improving pilot survival rates during plane crashes through his groundbreaking research on the effects of acceleration and deceleration forces. As a flight surgeon in the United States Air Force, Stapp witnessed firsthand the devastating injuries sustained by pilots in high-speed crashes.

His determination to understand and mitigate these injuries led him to conduct a series of daring experiments, including the famous rocket sled tests, where he subjected himself to extreme forces to gather crucial data. Stapp’s research provided invaluable insights into the human body’s ability to withstand acceleration and deceleration, leading to the development of improved safety measures and equipment for pilots, such as better seat restraints and cockpit designs, significantly increasing their chances of survival during crashes.

Moreover, Stapp’s meticulous studies and findings revolutionized the design and implementation of ejection seats in aircraft. By comprehensively studying the effects of sudden acceleration on the human body, he contributed to the development of safer and more effective ejection systems.

Stapp’s research directly influenced the design of ejection seats, making them more reliable and capable of protecting pilots during emergency situations. His work not only saved countless lives but also established a paradigm for safety standards in aviation that continues to shape aircraft design and pilot safety protocols to this day.

# 4: He Drove More Than 600 MPH

Colonel John Stapp had the need for speed.

At Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico on December 10, 1954, the Sonic Wind No. 1 rocket sled let loose 40,000 pounds of thrust and propelled United States Air Force flight surgeon Col. John Stapp more than 3,000 feet in a few seconds. He came to a stop just as fast and experienced a force equivalent to approximately four tons (46.2 g). Although bruised and badly shaken, Colonel Stapp survived without permanent injury and walked away with the world land speed record, 632 miles per hour. (That is faster than a 45 caliber bullet shot from a pistol!) ~ AirandSpace

Don’t try this at home kids!

# 5: The Damage To Stapp

That high speed run caused damage that included:

  • Two broken wrists
  • Temporary blindness as the blood vessels in his eyes had burst
  • Cracked ribs
  • & some respiratory issues

But all came out well in the end.

# 6: Seat Reversal

Dr. Stapp found that the effects of high G’s were lessened if seats in planes were turned backwards. The military agreed and most seats in military aircraft were changed to face the rear. More people would survive sudden crashes with seats facing backwards.

Many people, who know this, wonder why all major airlines still have passenger seats facing the front.

john stapp seat belt

# 7: Seat Belts In Cars

John Stapp, a pioneering figure in aerospace medicine, played a pivotal role in advocating for and advancing the use of seat belts in cars. As a flight surgeon in the United States Air Force during the 1940s and 1950s, Stapp witnessed numerous injuries among pilots due to high-speed crashes.

His extensive research on the effects of deceleration forces on the human body led him to realize the potential of seat belts in mitigating injuries during automobile accidents. Stapp’s groundbreaking experiments, including his famous rocket sled tests, demonstrated the life-saving impact of seat belts by showing how they could significantly reduce the impact of sudden stops on the human body.

Stapp’s tireless efforts didn’t stop at conducting experiments; he actively campaigned for the widespread adoption of seat belts in cars. His advocacy and scientific evidence were crucial in convincing car manufacturers and government agencies about the importance of seat belt use for passenger safety.

Stapp’s contributions paved the way for the eventual integration of seat belts as a standard safety feature in automobiles, ultimately saving countless lives and significantly reducing the severity of injuries in car accidents worldwide. His dedication to research and advocacy fundamentally transformed automotive safety standards and continues to have a lasting impact on road safety.

# 8: Captain Murphy

Colonel Stapp worked closely with Captain Murphy. In one experiment, Captain Murphy made a mistake of not wiring the gauges correctly. Maybe you have always wondered who originally coined “Murphy’s Law?” It was Stapp…

Anything that can go wrong, will!”

Colonel John Stapp also created Stapp’s Law which says:

“The universal aptitude for ineptitude makes any human accomplishment an incredible miracle.”

Final Thoughts

Colonel John Stapp’s life and contributions continue to resonate as a testament to human determination and innovation. His pioneering work in aerospace medicine, particularly his research on the effects of deceleration forces on the human body, revolutionized automotive safety.

Beyond his scientific endeavors, Stapp’s advocacy for seat belt usage and his relentless pursuit of making cars safer have left an indelible mark on history. His legacy extends far beyond his time, serving as an inspiration for future generations of researchers, engineers, and safety advocates, reminding us that with dedication and perseverance, remarkable advancements that enhance and safeguard human lives are within reach.

Colonel John Stapp’s story stands as a beacon of ingenuity, pushing boundaries to create a safer world for us all.

Suggested Reading:
  1. Army Aviation and Helicopter Refueling: 5 Safety Tips
  2. Military Graduate Schools In The United States
  3. The MT1X Parachute: Top 10 Cool Facts
  4. Army Jump Master: 10 Things You Should Know
  5. Army 37F MOS Overview: Psychological Operations Specialist
chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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