Photo of John Stapp

John Stapp

  • National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • Automotives

For his research on the effects of mechanical force on living tissues leading to safety developments in crash protection technology for automobiles, aircraft, trains, manned space flight and other modes of transportation.

Colonel John Stapp, an Air Force medical researcher, was known as the ”fastest man on earth” for his ride on a rocket-powered sled in a 1954 experiment to test the limits of human endurance. Stapp accelerated in 5 seconds from a standstill to 632 miles an hour, and then decelerated to a dead stop in 1.4 seconds, subjecting him to pressures 40 times the pull of gravity.

The purpose of the experiment, and 28 other high-speed rides, was to study the effects of bailing out of airplanes at supersonic speeds in effort to find out ways to keep pilots safer. Stapp’s work showed that a pilot could walk away from crashes when properly protected by harnesses if the seat does not break loose.

Stapp also became an early advocate of seatbelts and shoulder harnesses in cars. He built an automobile test facility and conducted the first-ever crash tests with dummies– tests that are still used for crash safety ratings. Every time you put on your seatbelt, it’s because of Stapp’s lifelong commitment to make transportation safer.

By Jen Santisi