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Home > Fact Sheets > Col. John Paul Stapp, Ph.D., M.D., Sc.D.


Posted 12/6/2006 Printable Fact Sheet
Col. John Stapp
Col. John Stapp. (U.S. Air Force photo)
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(Biography as of August 1959 and not intended to be complete or current.)

John Paul Stapp was born in Bahia, Brazil, July 11, 1910, first son of the late Rev. and Mrs. Charles F. Stapp, Southern Baptist Foreign Missionaries. His childhood was spent in Brazil; his parents, both teachers, gave him his primary education. At the age of 12 he was brought to the United States by his parents who left him in San Marcos Academy, San Marcos, Texas, where he completed high school. In 1927 he entered Baylor University, Waco, Texas, graduating with a B.A. in 1931 and an M.A. in zoology and chemistry in 1932. From 1932 to 1934, he was an instructor in zoology and chemistry at Decatur Baptist College, Decatur, Texas.

He entered graduate school at the University of Texas, Austin, Texas, in 1934, pursuing a doctorate in Biophysics as a teaching fellow. The degree was awarded in absentia in 1940, after he had completed a year of Medical School in the University of Minnesota, working as a teaching fellow. He received the M.D. degree at the end of a general rotating internship at St. Mary's Hospital, Duluth, Minn., in 1944.

He entered active duty as a 1Lt. Medical Corps on Oct. 4, 1944. He completed the Medical Field Service School at Carlisle Barracks, Penn., in 1944; the Flight Surgeon's Course at the School of Aviation Medicine in 1945; and the Industrial Medical Seminar in 1946. In 1955 he became a Diplomat in the American Board of Preventive Medicine, Specialty of Aviation Medicine, serving as an examiner on this board through 1957. In 1956, as commencement speaker at Baylor University, he was awarded an honorary D. Sc.

During his service career, Col. Stapp has served as General Duty Medical Officer, Industrial Medical Officer, Flight Surgeon, and Research Specialist in Aviation and Space Medicine. He founded and organized two laboratories for the Air Force: the Aeromedical Facility at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and the Aeromedical Field Laboratory of Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.

From 1946 through 1958, Col. Stapp pioneered in research on the effects of mechanical force on living tissues. In the course of these investigations, a quantitative stress analysis of the human body to limits of voluntary tolerance of crash type impacts and decelerations. These dynamic stress analyses, including 76 human experiments with rocket sleds decelerated from aircraft crash velocities and more than 200 experiments with human volunteers on swings, catapults and other decelerating devices, provided criteria for aircraft and ground vehicle safety design; for tolerance limits of trajectories of ejection seats and escape capsules for supersonic and hypersonic; and basic data applicable to impact forces expected in space ballistic flight.

Simultaneously, effects of windblast were studied, both by exposure of volunteers on high speed rocket sleds and in jet aircraft flights with canopy removed. As a volunteer for 29 of the rocket sled deceleration and windblast experiments, Col. Stapp sustained decelerations of 25 g average and 40 g peaks during a stop in 1.4 seconds from a velocity of 632 miles per hour attained by a rocket sled in 1954, in the last experiment of this series. Col. Stapp did not sustained loss of consciousness nor permanent disability from any of these experiments, although he incurred two wrist fractures, rib fractures, retinal hemorrhages and lesser injuries at various times. Establishment of human tolerance limits to impact forces in the order of 10,000 pounds for durations of a quarter of a second or less, and findings on the quantitative relationship of the rate on onset of mechanical force to injurious and lethal effects were worth the hazard of these experiments.

Col. Stapp planned and directed the high-altitude balloon flights with human subjects, which were accomplished in June and August 1957. In the latter flight, Col. David G. Simons attained 102,000 feet altitude during a 32-hour, 10-minutes flight.

Col. Stapp is currently [August 1959] assigned as Chief of the Aero Medical Laboratory of Wright Air Development Center, Dayton, Ohio. He directs research and development in aviation and space life-sciences.

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