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#133 Murphy’s Law

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A lot of folks, in various pursuits other than aviation, have quoted a variation of Murphy’s Law.  In aviation, the law is usually stated, “If an aircraft part can be installed incorrectly, someone will do it”.  It’s also stated as, “What can go wrong, will go wrong”.

I’d always accepted the existence of Murphy’s Law without giving its origination much thought.  But I think it was in reading the autobiography of Joe Kittinger that I may have found out the source.  You see, as a young Air Force officer, Joe had worked for the legendary Col. John Stapp.  I guess that name is another  one with which  many people are not familiar, but I’m sure not one.  In fact, at a recent family reunion, my brother, Larry, and I recalled the days when, as kids, he and I had watched in awe some black and white newsreel

Col. Stapp on the Jet Sled.

footage on our early television set.  The footage was taken with 16mm gun cameras attached to a testing sled.  The footage showed Col. Stapp as he conducted early experiments to determine what type of “G” force a human being could withstand.  Col. Stapp was one of those great leaders who would never ask an underling to undergo anything which he would not do himself.  So he strapped himself onto that sled and fired himself at high speed down those tracks, decelerating at the end with the sled digging into a trough of water and his face showing the incredible effects of G’s and wind.  To this day, only one person has performed as many tests on the jet sled as Col. Stapp and that is Mike Dennis, CEO of Oregon Aero.  But Mike, very intelligently, used crash test dummies.  Col. Stapp used himself!  That decision wasn’t so much a test of his intelligence as it was of his dedication and style of leadership.

But back then, Col. Stapp had a small crew who worked for him.  Among that crew

Capt. Edward Murphy makes adjustments to the harness on the jet sled.

was an engineer by the name of  Capt. Edward A. Murphy.  There are varying accounts, but it seems that Murphy may have attached g-meters to Stapp’s harness with their polarity reversed, rendering them useless.  Stapp shrugged and referred to that action as another example of “Murphy’s Law”.

The ground crew assists Capt. Kittinger in removing his flight gear after the successful flight of Excelsior III. (U.S. Air Force photo)
The ground crew assists Capt. Kittinger in removing his flight gear after the successful flight of Excelsior III. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Perhaps that law surfaced again, when Joe Kittinger set the world’s record by parachuting from 102,800 feet in 1960.  During that jump, one of his pressure suit’s gloves leaked, leading to frostbite and a potential calamity.

I’ve heard people curse Murphy’s Law.  They saw it as something lurking there, ready to bite them in the butt and louse up what they were trying to accomplish.

But perhaps Murphy’s Law exists for a good reason, making more of us a bit more cautious so as not to become victims of it.