Professor Wilbur Franks developed the first G-suit used in combat
Franks trained in cancer research under Fredrick Banting and took charge of wartime RCAF medical research after Banting’s death. He invented the pressure suit, which allows pilots to carry out high-speed manoeuvres without losing consciousness, used by Allied fighter pilots from 1942 onwards. Astronauts’ pressure suits today are mere refinements of Franks’ design. For this project, he built in wartime the first Canadian human centrifuge. Franks’ wartime laboratory became the RCAF Institute of Aviation Medicine, which later became the Defence and Civil Institute of Environment Medicine, Toronto, and is now Defence Research and Development Canada.
After the death of his mentor Frederick Banting in 1941, Franks continued Banting’s research into aviation medicine and the problem of Allied fighter pilots losing consciousness during high-speed exercises. The pilots were subject to immense gravitational forces, making it difficult for the heart to pump blood to the brain.
Franks initially came up with the idea of a water-filled G-suit. By filling an outer layer with water that pressed on the legs and abdomen to prevent blood from pooling in the lower parts of the body, Franks could keep the pilots’ blood circulating normally Later designs used air pressure instead of water pressure and included an inflatable bladder. The Franks Flying Suit was first used in combat by the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm in an invasion of North Africa in November 1942.