The "Sierra Sam" Story


Professor E.A. Pask, the first Professor of Anaesthesia in the North East, began investigating in 1959, in co-operation with the Sierra Engineering Company ( Sierra Madra, California ), the construction of a seaworthy anthropomorphic ( "test") dummy. Prior to this, he had done repeated experiments on himself, involving such activities as being thrown anaesthetised into water ( breathing through an uncuffed magill tube ) to test lifejackets. This earned him the title of "the bravest man in the RAF never to have flown an aeroplane".

"Sierra Sam" was designed around the 95 percentile dummy model 262. The final flotation-type dummy ( model L45-02 ) was 50th percentile, weighing 165lbs, and was produced in 1960. It cost $4707, the Company claiming it was only one third of the actual cost. Later estimates put his value at $6-10,000. Here, Sam is shown complete, with boiler suit and recorder in his leg pouch

Professor Pask spent some time in America supervising the manufacture, and further tests were done in England at the University of Durham and at RAF Farnborough.

The dummy was a "one off", never appearing in brochures, the blueprint being retained by the Company. Details of the dummy were included in the BMJ article "Design of Lifejackets", 28th October 1961. It is believed that no other "Sams" were ever built, making him unique.

Sadly, despite exhaustive attempts to find an English Home for Sam, he was sold by the Anaesthetic Department in Newcastle to a German Marine Research Institute, Bernhardt Apparetbav. At least he went to a good home, where he continued to be used for the purpose for which he was designed.

Construction of the Dummy

The dummy was constructed with a skeleton and "flesh" of materials approximating those of a human

The skeleton was constructed of laminated plastic, fibreglass and had stainless steel joints. The flesh was PVC like, and could be repaired with a hot spatula. All of Sam could be repaired in a normal workshop.

Joint movement could be regulated, to make him limp or rigid. Springs could be tensioned in the neck to mimic muscle tone. Additional inflatable belts could also be added to give bouyancy.

In addition to assessing lifejackets at sea, Sam was used to assess possible neck injury when dropping into the water from a height while wearing a lifejacket. Other instruments could be fitted into the chest cavity, including motion sensors to test "seasickness".

Sierra Sam In Action

Here we see Sam in his jacket, and ready to be dropped into the sea. He is fitted with a mouth device which records when the mouth is covered by water

Information from the device then went to a recorder, which was sealed in a plastic bag and strapped to Sam's leg

Then, in he went !

After a test, Sam would be left floating in the Tyne or the North Sea

, waiting to be picked up by the lifeboat "Tynesider".

Here is a diagram showing the results of three different lifejackets. I want to have number three, please !

As already mentioned, Sam was also used to look at head movements and neck strain. Here we see a series of high speed photographs, taken to look at head movement on impact with the water.

And finally, here is Sam being dropped into the sea attached to wires to record neck strain.

The recording instruments were in the parked van ( a Bedford CA, I am reliably informed !).

Return to museum or NSA contents page. Dr Gary Enever, 28/10/99.