By the midthirties, advancing technology required that the skills of the flight surgeon be combined with those of the aeronautical engineer to explore the problems of "human engineering." With the establishment of the Aero Medical Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Field, Ohio, in 1934, the flight surgeon assumed a key position in the Air Force program for applied research and development of hardware. During World War II the Army Air Forces worked with NACA in developing a human-factors program, for man remained the weak link in new weapon systems that included man, plane, and missile. The basic problems of design engineering and life-support systems as defined in that period were to be pertinent a decade and a half later, as the Nation embarked on its manned space-flight program.14
After the war it became increasingly apparent that aircraft operational requirements were leading man nearer to space itself. Specialists in aviation medicine, watching pilot performances at ever higher altitudes and faster speeds in the rocket-powered aircraft of the X-series, began to think of space flight as a logical extension of high-altitude flight. In October 1947, when test of pilot Charles E. "Chuck" Yeager, then a captain in the Air Force, flew the rocket-powered USAF-NACA X-1 faster than the speed of sound, a new milestone had been passed.
Two months later, Lt. Col. John P. Stapp, USAF (MC), who was interested in the problems of deceleration made his first rocket-propelled research-sled ride at a speed of 90 mph. On March 19,1954, he traveled at a speed of 421 mph On the 3,500-foot track; on August 19, at a speed of 502 mph; and on December 10, 1954, at a speed of 632 mph, which made him "the fastest man on earth" (as described in current news media). Bushnellís authoritative and highly readable history of the Air Force Missile Development Center, Holloman Air Force Base, for the period 1946-58 describes these developments, as well as the related animal experimentation program, in great detail.15
Other research efforts were also underway. As early as March 1927 Capt. H. C. Gray (U.S. Army Air Corps) had ascended to 28,910 feet in a free balloon for an unofficial altitude record. In May 1931, Auguste Piccard and Paul Kipfer made the first successful manned ascent into the stratosphere from Augsburg, Germany, and established a new world altitude record of 51,777 feet. In 1934 three Air Corps officers, Maj. W. E. Kepner, Capt. A. W. Stevens, and Cap, Orvil A. Anderson, attained a 60,613-foot altitude in an Air Corps-National Geographic Society balloon. Subsequent flights were made by both the Air Force and the Navy to study the problems of altitude. For example, in August 1057, Maj. David G. Simons, USAF (MC), a flight surgeon, remained airborne for 32 hours in the Man-High II flight. He established a manned-balloon altitude record of 101,516 feet, ascending at Crosby, Minn., and landing at Elm Lake, S. Dak.16 This was 2 months before Sputnik.
In response to the drastic upgrading of research and development in the postwar years, the U.S. Air Force organized, in January 1951, the Air Research and Development Command (later the Air Force Systems Command) to provide the best in new manned and unmanned weapon systems. Important objectives of the new command were the undertaking of scientific research and the development of applied technology to accomplish manned flight at increasing altitudes and speeds.17
The documented record of these highly significant research and development milestones that occurred in the early 1950ís under the leadership of Gen. Thomas Power, then Commanding General of ARDC, has not yet appeared in the open literature. Such a history,, describing the conceptual thinking at the R&D level during this period, should go far to unify the pattern of progress by Air Force scientists and engineers spreading from Kitty Hawk to the Man-in-Space R&D effort carried out later under Gen. Bernard A. Schriever.18
14. This program is discussed in detail in Link and Coleman, opt. cit., pp. 230-351.
15. David Bushnell, History of Research in Space Biology and Biodynamics, 1946-58, AF Missile Dev. Center, Holloman AFB, N. Mex., 1955. This study is a "must" for anyone interested in gaining a true perspective of the great amount of research and development that was carried out by the Air Force in this period. Statistics supplied by Colonel Stapp, Sept. 10, 196I; Air Force Pamphlet 190-2, p. 71; and Eugene M. Emme, Aeronautics and Astronautics, An American Chronology of Science and Technology in the Exploration, of Space, 1915-1960 (Washington, D.C.: NASA, 1961), pp. 62, 68.
16. Emme, Aeronautics and Astronautics, p. 87. This was to he followed by other flights such as "Man-High III. See Emme, Aeronautics and Astronautics, appendix C, "Chronicle of Select Balloon Flights, 1927-1961," pp. 161-165. See also David Bushnell, Contributions of Balloon Operations to Research and Development at the Air Force Missile Development Center, 1947-58, AF Missile Dev. Center, Holloman AFB, N. Mex, 1958. This volume is also a "must" reference. Copy on file in NASA Historical Archives.
17. When it became operational in April 1951, ARDC had four laboratories: Air Development Force at Wright Field, AF Cambridge Research Div., AF Flight Test Center at Edwards AFB, and the Holloman AFB R&D establishment (later AFMDC). Later the Arnold Engineering Development Center (Tullahoma, Tenn.), AF Armament Center (Eglin AFB, Fla.), and the AF Special Weapons Center (Kirtland AFB, N. Mex.) were added.
18. The author has discussed this important
period with key Air Force personnel including Col. George D. Colchagoff,
USAF, an engineer who was on General Power's staff and was project officer
for matters relating to space flight.