Happy Birthday, Dummies

At age 75, the anthropometric manikin is smarter than ever.

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Manikins packed with sensors to measure G-force and other effects are ready for a crash test at the NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia.

In the summer of 1940, the U.S. Army Air Corps realized that the nation couldn’t be fit for war until its men and equipment were fit for each other. So in September of that year, the newly appointed commander of the Corps’ aeromedical research unit, Captain Otis O. Benson, Jr., asked Harvard anthropologist Earnest A. Hooton to help define and measure the average airman.

It wasn’t a trivial problem. The Air Corps faced critical shortages in uniforms of certain sizes, and surpluses in others. Hatches and crawl spaces on aircraft had to accommodate men of different heights. Gunners needed enough elbow room to swivel their bodies and fire their weapons from inside cramped turrets.

At the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, visitors to Hooton’s booth on anthropometrics—the measurement of the size and proportions of the human body—had their heads examined, literally, with calipers. Hooton had already been collecting such data from prisoners for years, and at Harvard he conducted annual surveys of the incoming freshmen.

In 1939, Paul Garber, assistant curator for the Smithsonian aircraft collection, shares the cockpit of the Wright aircraft demonstrated by Orville Wright for the Army Air Corps at Fort Myer, Virginia, in 1909.
Anthropomorphic dummies with the nickname Sierra Sam are suspended from a crane before rising in a balloon gondola for a test drop during Project High Dive above the White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico on June 11, 1953.
On October 6, 1958, the U.S. Navy tested a pilot escape system called the rocket-assisted personnel ejection catapult, or RAPEC, at China Lake, California. A small rocket charge separates the pilot in his seat from the aircraft, and a second burst of propellant achieves a safe altitude for the pilot to release from the seat and parachute to Earth.
The first anthropomorphic manikins developed for the U.S. Army Air Forces were made of a clear plastic called cellulose acetate. Their measurements were derived from a survey begun in the fall of 1940 by Harvard anthropologist Earnest Hooton.
By the early 1980s the USAF was using more advanced forms with fully articulated movement and internal sensors. This model at Holloman Air Force Base, named ADAM (for Advanced Dynamic Anthropomorphic Manikin), simulates and records the body’s response to ejection from a high-performance aircraft.
For drop tests at the NASA Langley Research Center, a helicopter is painted with black and white polka dots to help calibrate damage to the fuselage. Inside, manikins are packed with sensors to measure G-force and other effects.
Matroshka, officially known as the Phantom Torso, flew on the International Space Station to measure the effects of radiation on astronauts. The torso’s special plastic mimics the density of the human body and is sliced horizontally into 35 one-inch layers, which are embedded with 416 lithium-crystal dosimeters placed near the brain, thyroid, heart, colon, and stomach.
In 1984, NASA ran a test called the controlled impact demonstration, deliberately crashing an airliner to test the ability to survive a fire driven by aviation fuel. These instrumented dummies represent a full load of passengers, one of whom has brought along a child.
On Lopez Island, Washington, Rescue Randy awaits hoisting into an MH-60S Knighthawk assigned to the Naval Air Station Whidbey Island search and rescue service.
A half-dozen “nearly human” manikins rest between rounds of training at the Air Force Reserve Command aeromedical evacuation unit at Pope Air Force Base, North Carolina.
The USAF 18th Dental Squadron demonstrates teeth cleaning to touring students from Okinawa City at Kadena Air Base, Japan, in 2014.
A C-130 Hercules is loaded with manikins simulating wounded soldiers at the Pittsburgh International Airport Air Reserve Station in Coraopolis, Pennsylvania. The annual exercise, called Global Medic, trains personnel in all aspects of combat medical support.
A training dummy is lifted into an MH-60S Seahawk during air ambulance training at Naval Air Facility El Centro, California.
A dummy airman is fitted with Google Glass during a test of battlefield air targeting man-aided knowledge (BATMAN). The 711th human performance wing at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, builds on anthropomorphic modeling methods first honed at the base in the 1940s.
In the waters off Air Station Cape Cod, Massachusetts, petty officer Chuck Ferrante signals that a practice dummy is ready to be hoisted by basket to a hovering HH-60 Jayhawk.
Conservators at the Museum of the USAF in Dayton, Ohio, took a full day to gently remove and restore this mannequin for an exhibit. In 1966, Arrowhead Products built the full-pressure flight suit for the USAF and dressed this dummy for a demonstration. Mannequins such as this, as opposed to more lifelike and accurate manikins, were used simply for weight and approximate form. They lacked sensors and had only limited mobility.

When the Army asked him to design its anthropometric survey, Hooton already was working on a system to collect and tabulate data using IBM punched cards. In February 1941, he visited Wright Field in Ohio to begin his survey of airmen, starting with measurements of how well they fit inside aircraft turrets. By the end of 1942 Hooton and Air Corps scientists had measured 8,277 people—mostly men, but also including 599 WASPS and flying nurses. Of these only 132 were African-American, drawn from Wilberforce University.

More than 5,000 of the airmen undertook full-body measurements, which were given to designers and manufacturers of clothing, equipment and aircraft. The rest were measured for facial and cranial data, to help designers build oxygen masks that wouldn’t leak and goggles that would stay snug on the eyes and nose.

In June 1943, nearly 50 anthropometric dimensions were used to sculpt three figures called manikins. Compared to the mannequins at Macy’s, the new dummies were far more accurate in form, feel, and the articulation of their limbs. The first manikins were made of cellulose acetate, a clear but strong plastic that could be draped with a flight suit or harnessed to a parachute.

A permanent anthropometry unit was formed at Wright Field, where the science and art of manikins has evolved for 75 years (see the gallery above). Today’s test figures are no dummies. The Air Force and NASA draw from research by the automotive industry, fashion designers and furniture makers to simulate the human body with great realism, so as to help engineers build aircraft that are safer and more comfortable.

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