March 27, 2009

Earl Wood, G suit inventor, dies

Dr. Earl Wood, inventor of the high-altitude pressure suit worn by pilots and astronauts, has died in Rochester, Minn. He was 97.

The Mayo Clinic, where Woods was a researcher, said Wood -- who died March 18 -- was an integral part of the team that developed the first civilian human centrifuge in the United States. The centrifuge was used to test human reactions to high levels of gravitational forces.

In large part, their work laid the foundation for the science behind modern aerospace physiology and made travel possible in the upper levels of the atmosphere and outer space, the clinic said in a release.

Wood was responsible for the first G suit, which was a flight suit outfitted with air-filled bladders and a system of valves to protect pilots during high-speed maneuvers by encouraging greater blood flow to the brain. World War II bomber pilots, jet fighter pilots, test pilots and today's astronauts have worn various versions of the suit, the clinic said.

Wood was also credited with refining the heart-lung bypass machine that Mayo used to become the first medical center to perform open-heart surgery as a routine procedure.