Jet Plane Supersonic Sickness

Profile picture for user Dave Homewood

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I have never heard of this till now: From the GISBORNE HERALD, 9 September 1947 MYSTERY MALADY JET PLANE PILOTS SUPERSONIC SICKNESS LONDON. Aug. 12. Supersonic “sickness,” a mysterious jet age malady, has claimed its first victim, 26-year-old Battle of Britain pilot Philip Stanbury, D.F.C., one of the country’s best-known test pilots. The sickness has caused him to give up flying jet planes. He told the Daily Mail’s aviation correspondent that a doctor had ordered him to fly only lightweight aircraft, which explains his surprise resignation from the Gloster Aircraft Company, whose twin-jet Meteor fighters he flew as chief test pilot. The strange sickness is caused by the effect on a man’s body of engine noises pitched at such high frequency that they cannot be heard by the human ear. The correspondent says Vickers Armstrong test pilot, Jeffrey Quill, who was given an O.B.E. for testing Spitfires, is also believed to be affected by the malady. Urgent Attention to Problem The Ministry of Supply and Air Ministry medical experts are giving urgent attention to the problem. Test pilots suspected of showing signs of “jet sickness” are receiving the most rigorous examination. "Investigation of supersonic sickness by the Medical Research Council, the National Physical Laboratory, and other bodies, began after turbo-jet factory workers’ complaints that they had contracted strange illnesses, says the correspondent. “The possible effects of supersonic vibrations on airline passengers sitting in a ‘cone of sound’ behind jet engines is also being considered. “Scientists have been for years trying to harness high frequency sound waves. Research workers claim they killed a rabbit at 100 yards range with a sound gun which concentrated supersonic waves into a fatal beam.”
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15 years 2 months

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Not unlike the effects on ground and air crew of the XF-84 Thunderscreech which had a propeller revolving with supersonic tip speeds. Nausea, headaches etc.
Profile picture for user J Boyle

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15 years

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More to the point, is the "malady" still out there, if so does anyone suffer from it? No doubt Stanbury was suffering from something, but perhaps not what was assumed in 1947. Perhaps his work with new and noisy jets led the doctors to make a false assumption? After all, Quill continued to fly and the health and safety crowd didn't legislate jets out of existence.
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15 years 8 months

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Were they flying these early jets with the normal leather helmets? Did this problem lead to the rigid helmets with far better ear protection perhaps? Also did the German and US pilots who had been flying jets also suffer from this at the time?
Profile picture for user bazv

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14 years 8 months

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It was not just a jet thing - quite a few pilots at the end of WW2 ended up with various problems,years of high altitudes in unpressurised cockpits,with fairly basic oxygen regulators and also having to do many rapid descents could lead to a variety of ills. Jeff Quill - in his autobio 'Spitfire' he describes passing out whilst climbing the E10/44 to circa 40,000 ft and he put it down to a mixture of being extremely tired after 16 years of hard continuous flying and flying high in unpressurised aircraft,he was run down and unwell.He voluntarily gave up test flying but eventually returned to normal flying. Some pilots ended up with variations of (or similar to ) chronic sinusitus which also curtailed jet and or test flying. 2 pilots that come to mind on that score would be Derek Piggot and David Ince - both of whom became well known glider pilots but had set their sights on test flying.
Profile picture for user Anon

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11 years 9 months

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I have a strange malady that affects me every time I see an F-4 Phantom. Although I don't fly them nor am I flying when I see it, there are no medical issues. It's just the wobbly knees that could be a problem when trying to walk afterwards. I suppose you could call it a sickness, but the after effects are not too serious to require medical intervention. Anon.
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10 years

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I only have to see a picture of an M.52 to feel sickened.