Did you know NASA had to borrow U-2/SR-71 “yellow” Pressure Suits for first space shuttle mission?

NASA had to borrow U-2/SR-71 “yellow” Pressure Suits for first space shuttle mission. Here’s why.

By Dario Leone
Mar 24 2024
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David Clark Company

David Clark Company (DCC) is an American manufacturing company. DCC designs and manufactures a wide variety of aerospace and industrial protective equipment, including pressure-space suit systems, anti-G suits, headsets, and several medical/safety products. DCC has been involved in the design and manufacture of air-space crew protective equipment since 1941, beginning with the design and development of the first standard anti-G suits and valves used by allied fighter pilots during World War II.

Since 1946, DCC’s continuous pressure suit research and development efforts, sponsored largely by the Department of Defense to support its US Air Force (USAF) high-altitude aircraft (Lockheed U-2 and SR-71) programs, resulted in the early 1980s in the S1031C, a new generation pressure suit.

NASA borrows U-2/SR-71 “yellow” Pressure Suits

‘NASA had to borrow some space suits from the U-2 program for the first shuttle mission,’ says Damien Leimbach, former Avionics Technician at U.S. Air Force (2001-2007), on Quora.

‘The David Clark company builds space suits for NASA, but they also build the iconic yellow pressure suits that the U-2 and SR-71 program uses.

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‘The program calls them “pressure suits” since they don’t actually fly to space, but they are essentially the same suits that the David Clark company made for NASA.

‘Prior to the first shuttle mission (STS-1), the launch of Columbia, there was a defect detected in the batch of suits NASA was making for the pilots to use. Since the maiden flight of the shuttle mission was also its first real test flight, there was only two crew, a pair of pilots, for that mission.

Why NASA borrowed U-2/SR-71 Pressure Suits

‘However the suits were not going to be be fixed in time, so NASA called up Beale AFB and said “Hey, we need to borrow a pair of space suits.”

‘And that’s why the crew pictures from the first shuttle mission show the pilots wearing yellow suits (high visibility to easily see downed pilots) instead of the iconic NASA white.

Did you know NASA had to borrow U-2/SR-71 “yellow” Pressure Suits for first space shuttle mission?

‘I mean, without the NASA patches, you wouldn’t know these guys weren’t SR-71 or U-2 pilots.’

Leimbach concludes;

Did you know NASA had to borrow U-2/SR-71 “yellow” Pressure Suits for first space shuttle mission?

You can even see the green velcro patches on the thighs where U-2 pilots put their note pads and map boards.’

David Clark Company Model S1034 Pilots Protective Assembly (PPA) began replacing the precursor S1031 in the U-2R in 1996 and continues in service to present day. It has also been adopted for use in the NASA ER-2 and WB-57F platforms.

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Photo credit: NASA and U.S. Air Force

Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird model
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Dario Leone

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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