Original U.S. Cold War 1955 Air Force Model MC-1 High Altitude Flight Suit

Item Description

Original Item, Only One Available. Rare Original Early US Air Force High Altitude Suit. Model MC-1. Marked size “Small-Short”. This particular suit was made by Berger Brothers. Suit appears to have all plugs and connectors. There is some damage (with repair) to the front collar, where it appears some serviceman attempted to make the suit wider.  USAF Property Decal is intact on the upper left chest. Made following requests from B-36 Bomber crews, the Air Force adopted this improved suit. An incredibly difficult to find suit from the height of the Cold War.

The MC-1 Flight Coverall:
After flying for approximately 3,000 miles, the B-36 would begin climbing to its 45,000-foot combat altitude. It would take almost 2 hours and a little over 550 miles to climb from 5,000 feet to 45,000 feet, and the airplane would reach its combat altitude approximately 500 miles from the target. Fuel was budgeted to fly at maximum continuous power for 15 minutes before reaching the target and 10 minutes after weapons release; this equated to 425 mph and covered just over 175 miles.89 Reconnaissance versions of the B-36 flew somewhat higher and farther, and the Eighth Air Force stated that 45–60 minutes were normally required to descend from 53,000 to 40,000 feet and that 25 minutes was probably the quickest the airplane could descend. The Eighth Air Force appeared to believe that the existing S-2 suit might provide adequate protection for the 3-hour period, but physiologists doubted that an airman could remain at extreme altitude for the full period because of the discomfort and inconvenience of the suit.90 Toward the end of 1953, the SAC announced a firm requirement for a continuous-wear partial-pressure suit capable of protecting crewmembers at 50,000 feet. Furthermore, by late 1954 they would need a suit capable of operating at 55,000 feet and by 1960, one capable of sustaining crewmembers at 60,000 feet. In response, the Aero Medical Laboratory and David Clark Company began the development of the MC-1 Featherweight suit. In many ways, the MC-1 was a step back to the original David Clark Company versions of the Henry Suit. The MC-1 added breathing bladders to the chest and abdominal torso sections to reduce the work of breathing. When the airman in-haled, the bladder deflated, leaving room for his lungs to expand in the tight suit. When he exhaled, the bladder reinflated and put pressure on his chest and abdomen, aiding the process. Even though a flyer wore long underwear under the S-2/T-1 suit, he was subject to skin pinches when the capstan tubes expanded. To help alleviate the discomfort, the MC-1 contained anti-pinch bladders and used smaller arm and shoulder capstans. The new suit was also equipped with bladders in the upper arms that bled into pressurized gloves. The MC-1 used either the K-1 or the MB-5 helmet. Like the S-2 and T-1, the suit was available in the 12 standard sizes, plus custom-fitted versions manufactured by Berger Brothers. By January 1955, the first of 1,200 MC-1 suits were available. There was a curious issue with the initial deliveries of the MC-1 suit. In many instances, crewmembers discovered the sleeves were too short, even though they were identical in length to those on the T-1 and S-2. It soon became apparent that the discrepancy stemmed from the use of gloves with the MC-1. Pressurized gloves were not worn with the T-1 or S-2 suits, so sleeve length had not been a particular issue.

With the MC-1, the sleeve had to connect with an inflation tube on the gloves, and any shortage of length caused the gloves to separate from the sleeve. David Clark Company quickly, and simply, corrected the situation by adding an individually fitted length of tubing from the sleeves to the gloves. As it did with all the early pressure suits, the Guardite Strato Chamber at Wright Field played a key role in the development of the MC-1 suit. For instance, during May 1954, two test subjects wore suits at 55,000 feet for 4 hours and two others at 50,000 feet for 6 hours. By the end of July 1955, 17 chamber runs at 50,000 feet had lasted from 1 to 7 hours, and 9 runs at 55,000 feet lasted between 30 minutes and 4 hours. Three runs at 60,000 feet lasted from 1 to 3 hours. Researchers also completed seven runs at 65,000 feet, ranging from 12 minutes to almost 2 hours. Finally, subjects completed two runs above 80,000 feet, with exposure times above 50,000 feet in excess of 45 minutes. These experiments created a tremendous demand for men to make the chamber runs. The Aero Medical Laboratory found it was not desirable to continually use the same test subjects. So, in addition to persons connected with the project (many of whom made chamber runs repeatedly), the laboratory obtained pilots from other units as subjects. To its credit, the laboratory did not attempt to make these experiments appear glamorous. For example, an advertisement for a test in 1954 announced, “This will require an attempted 11 hour stay at altitudes above 45,000 feet, plus a 2 hour preoxygenation period. Thus an ‘all-day’ (14–15 hours) experiment is anticipated. In addition, various types of instrumentation will be used, all of which help produce a very long and miserable day.”91 Just what one wanted to do on his day off. Perhaps not unexpectedly, the “volunteers” generally were not motivated to endure the inconvenience and discomfort nor the actual pain that occurred in a certain percentage of subjects during chamber runs. There was some thought of providing a “graded monetary motivation system” under which subjects would be paid for each hour spent at altitude, but the plan was never put into use since Air Force Headquarters disapproved the request for funds.92 In its search for subjects to make chamber runs with the Featherweight suit during early 1954, the laboratory came up with the idea of killing two birds with one stone: indoctrinate the B-36 crews in the use of altitude suits while using them for chamber tests. Although an interesting concept, the timing never worked and no operational crew participated in the development tests. Despite the advancements over the previous S-2 suit, some felt the MC-1 did not provide adequate protection. An in-depth physiological evaluation of the MC-1 was prompted in early 1954 when Air Force Headquarters began considering the development of a “mission-completion” garment. Ultimately, this evaluation demonstrated the ineffectiveness of the MC-1 and led, along with other drivers, to the development of the MC-3 partial-pressure suit.93 The evaluation by the Aero Medical Laboratory concluded that the “MC-1 partial-pressure ensemble (MC-1 suit, K-1 or MB-5 helmet, and pressure gloves) clearly demonstrated its gross inadequacy to meet the stated USAF maximum time-altitude requirements.”94 The study found that the probability of three crewmembers being functional at an altitude of 60,000 feet after 1 hour was only about 1 in 7. In most cases, the altitude chamber runs were terminated because of an impending syncope that implied a fainting reaction. Symptoms included pallor, nausea, sweating, weakness, malaise, and a sensation of “being overwhelmed.”95 The researchers found that at 60,000 feet, there was usually only about a minute’s warning before a subject fainted. The MC-1 had only small anterior chest and abdomen bladders that did not offer adequate counter-pressurize on the outside of the chest to equalize the high intrathoracic pressure present during pressure breathing. When the average wearer was subjected to Dressing for Altitude: U.S. Aviation Pressure Suits—Wiley Post to Space Shuttle | Dennis R. Jenkins Chapter 4: Partial-Pressure Suits 146 65,000 feet for 1 hour, remarkable physiological changes occurred.96 The most important physiologic response was the alarming frequency of sudden presyncope (lowering of blood pressure). The pattern leading up to syncope was fairly uniform. The subject was exposed to 65,000 feet when he suddenly broke into moderate diaphoresis (sweat) over his entire body, easily discernable on the arms and legs, where the sweat evaporated through permeable fabric, creating a cold sensation. Concomitantly, there was a definite hypotension and a relative bradycardia in which the pulse dropped from 160 to 75 beats per minute. (True bradycardia implies that the pulse is below 60 beats per minute.) With the sudden hypotension and bradycardia, researchers inferred that there was a dramatic decrease in cardiac output  The time from the first symptom until syncope varied from a few seconds to 2 minutes. Researchers always tried to terminate the test before unconsciousness but were often unable to do so because of the rapid onset of symptoms. When this occurred, the chamber was depressurized from 65,000 to 40,000 feet in about 5 seconds. The subject normally returned to consciousness in 4–6 seconds, although pallor, clammy skin, hypotension, and bradycardia often lasted for a couple of hours.98 The reactions varied widely based on the individual. Researchers found the ability of crewmembers to remain at 65,000 feet in the MC-1 ensemble ranged from 2 minutes to more than 2 hours.
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