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“Iron Maiden” Used to Set Standing World Record Comes Home

An important research tool once used to test theories about submerging the human body in water to lessen the effects of G forces encountered during space flight is returning to Bucks County after a 15 year absence.

Flashback… On December 7, 1958 Bucks County native and research scientist R. Flanagan Gray climbed inside a full body enclosure that looked like something out of a Jules Verne novel. Resembling a cast aluminum deep sea diving suit, Gray’s “Iron Maiden” was unique in many ways. One was that it was designed to keep water in. Another was that it was designed to be attached to largest and most powerful human centrifuge the world has ever seen.

After donning a special mask and goggles designed for high-g’s Gray submerged himself in the water that filled the tank and inserted a breathing tube in his mouth. He took a deep breath and held it. With a nod of his head, he signaled that he was ready for his research associates to take the world renowned Johnsville Centrifuge to it’s maximum. The ride eventually took Gray to 31.25 Gs sustained for approximately 5 seconds. By the time the run was over, Gray was exhuasted, quite worse for wear and a world record holder. Since then, noone has attempted to match his extraordinary feat.

Located, at the Johnsville Naval Air Development Center (NADC) in Warminster, PA, the centrifuge, known in the day as Aviation Medical Acceleration Laboratory (AMAL) was one of 31 laboratories on the base. When NADC was shuttered in 1996, the Iron Maiden was moved to the Naval Air base at Patuxent River, MD and placed on display at the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum. The important artifact is now on loan to the Johnsville Centrifuge and Science Museum for the next two years. Following the arrival of the Mercury 7 Gondola this past May, the Iron Maiden is the second major artifact of historical importance to be brought home to Bucks County by the museum.

The Iron Maiden will be on public display at the Bucks County Visitors Center at 3207 Street Road, Bensalem from August 31 through September 23.

“We are excited to bring this important piece of history back to Bucks County,” said Michael Maguire, President of the Johnsville Centrifuge and Science Museum. “The centrifuge was one of the many labs at NADC where pioneering technology that touches our everyday life was developed. Once you see the Iron Maiden and imagine being sealed inside of it, you can’t help but be amazed by the dedication of all the scientists and engineers at NADC. We are thrilled that the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum is loaning this artifact to us. ”


The Mercury 7 Gondola being lowered into place

May 5, 2011 was a historic day for Bucks County as the original gondola of the Johnsville Centrifuge that was used for training America’s early space heroes returned to Warminster. It had spent the last 47 years at the Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration and Storage Facility of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum in Suitland, Maryland.

All of America’s pioneering astronauts, including Alan Shepard, John Glenn and Neil Armstrong trained at the Johnsville Centrifuge prior to their historic space missions. In 1963 the gondola was replaced by a larger gondola to accommodate the three wide configuration needed to train for the Apollo missions. Shortly after its replacement it was transferred to the Smithsonian by the US Navy and has remained at the Garber facility ever since. The gondola has recently been “deaccessioned” (taken off the books) by the Smithsonian with ownership transferring to the Johnsville Centrifuge & Science Museum.

A special “Welcome Home” ceremony was held at the Bucks County Visitors Center for the Gondola on the date that marked the 50th Anniversary of the Mercury mission that placed Alan Shepard as the First American in Space. The move of the Gondola was made possible through a grant from History’s® Save Our History® initiative in partnership with Comcast.

We appreciate the support of all of our friends and partners, including Banacom Signs of Warminster, PA, The Bucks County Conference and Visitors Bureau, Clear Channel Communications, R. T. Hankinson Trucking of Ottsville, PA, Operating Engineers Local 542, Fort Washington, PA, Penn State University, Warminster Township, the many community leaders and politicians that wrote letters to the Smithsonian on our behalf, the staff and Management of the National Air and Space Museum and our many dedicated volunteers. We also appreciate the coverage of the local press, including Action News, Eyewitness News,, The Daily Intelligencer, The Bucks County Herald and the many other local newspapers that sent photographers and reporters. We would like to extend a special thanks to History and Comcast for their generous support in the form of a $10,000 Save Our History® grant which enabled us to move the Gondola.

It has been a busy couple of weeks but rewarding in the end. There were many exciting and memorable moments. We loaded the gondola in the rain, but did not feel a drop. Along the way we saw countless cars slow in the passing lane and jockey for position in order to get a picture. We were delayed at the weigh station in Maryland so the state troopers could get a closer look at our historic load and pose next to it. As we drove along I-95 in Philadelphia, the good people at Clear Channel Communications saluted the Gondola’s return with a special message on their digital billboards. Before our arrival at the Bucks County Visitors Center we stopped at the Neil Armstrong Middle School to make sure that all of the banners were in place and our flags were able to fly free. We were greeted by the press and our enthusiastic friends at the Bucks County Visitors Center where the public got their first chance to see the Gondola up close in 47 years!

After that we were escorted by police and fire trucks all the way up Street Road, finally working our way to the Penn State Anechoic Chamber at 300 East Bristol Road in Warminster. There are no words to describe the feeling when the Gondola was finally offloaded and placed on its concrete pad to the cheers of an enthusiastic crowd. It was truly an inspirational moment.

Check out this video of the homecoming of the Mercury 7 Gondola from Make sure to watch in in full screen mode.

History Made Here

Below is the text of an editorial that appeared in the Daily Intelligencer on Monday, May 9, 2011.

History made here

America’s space program has roots in Warminster

IT WAS ALL so new then, so unfamiliar, so much like something out of Capt. Video: On May 5, 1961 – 50 years ago – astronaut Alan B. Shepard, one of the original seven U.S. astronauts, became the first American in outer space.

The Russians had beaten us to manned flight – Yuri Gagarin did it in April of that year – just as they had shocked the United States and the world years earlier with the launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite.

By comparison, Gagarin’s ride – a 108-minute orbital trip – made Shepard’s 15-minute suborbital journey seem like a walk across the street.

Nevertheless, Shepard was hailed as a national hero with parades in several cities. President John F. Kennedy awarded him a medal. More importantly, Shepard’s “foot in the space door” launched America’s manned space program, which eventually overtook the Soviet Union’s and culminated with the first moon landing, Apollo 11, in July 1969. Shepard himself would walk on the moon in 1971 as the commander of Apollo 14.

Shepard retired from NASA in 1974 and died of leukemia on July 21, 1998, 21 years to the day after the first moon walk. Though he’ll never be forgotten as America’s first space pioneer, he’s back in the news for a couple of reasons.

Last week, the U.S. Postal Service issued a first-class stamp in Shepard’s honor.

And in an event much closer to home, the original centrifuge gondola that Shepard trained in during Project Mercury was returned to Warminster Township, where the former Johnsville Naval Air Development Center once was home to the world’s largest human centrifuge. The arrival of the gondola on May 5 coincided with the 50th anniversary of Shepard’s first flight.

Many other astronauts from the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs came to the NADC to ride the gondola and experience the effects of high G-forces that they would later be subjected to during launches.

After its days of spinning astronauts were over, the gondola became part of the collection at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington. But its place at the Smithsonian for well over four decades – in an outside storage yard, away from public view – hardly did proper justice to such a key contributor to the U.S. space program.

According to the Johnsville Centrifuge and Science Museum website, the return of the gondola to its home in Warminster is part of the Save Our History campaign sponsored by The History Channel.
Eventually, the gondola will be displayed at the centrifuge building.

That our early astronauts prepared for their journeys right in our own backyard is not a particularly well-known chapter in the story of America’s space program. The centrifuge gondola’s homecoming is a good reason to learn about the role Bucks County played in the nation’s early exploration of the final frontier.


After spending the last 47 years safely stored at the National Air & Space Museum’s Paul E. Garber Preservation, Restoration and Storage Facility in Suitland, Maryland, the original gondola of the Johnsville Centrifuge will be coming home to Warminster on May 5th, the 50th anniversary of Alan Shepard’s historic flight. The gondola’s return is being made possible as the result of a grant from History Channel in partnership with Comcast as part of the network’s Save Our History® campaign dedicated to historic preservation and history education.

The festivities are set to include a “Welcome Home” ceremony at 12:45 PM on May 5th at the Bucks County Visitor’s Center at 3207 Street Road in Bensalem (in front of the PARX casino). The gondola will be at the Visitors Center between Noon and 2. At 2PM the gondola will head up Street Road under police escort and will work its way to the Penn State Anechoic Chamber located on Bristol Road at the Warminster Community Park where it will be offloaded.

Everyone is invited to come out and witness this historic occasion. Tell your friends and have them come out too. Keep an eye out for more details in the coming days.

Program Announced for Museum Gala


Renown Astronomer Derrick Pitts to Provide Comments on Importance of Science Education

Program will also feature Special Q&A Session
with Retired Naval Corpsman
who Helped Train Mercury Astronauts

We are happy to announce that Derrick Pitts, the Chief Astronomer and Director of the Fels Planetarium at the Franklin Institute will be providing comments at our event. Derrick’s father worked at NADC and inspired Derrick’s interest in space and science at a young age. Derrick is well known in the Philadelphia region for his work on WHYY and WXPN-FM an is recognized nationally for his many appearances on show like The Today Show, Good Morning America, and Newton’s Apple. We are thrilled to welcome Derrick to our event.

In addition, retired Naval Corpsman Art Guntner will be featured in a special Q&A session. In what promises to be an extraordinary oral history, Art will recount his days in the Navy where one of his assignments was as an Aerospace Medicine Technician at the Johnsville Centrifuge. While stationed at Johnsville, Art flew over 350 simulations in the centrifuge and was personally involved in briefing and training the Mercury Astronauts.  

Our Second Annual Spring Gala will be held on Saturday, May 14 from 6 to 11 PM at the VE Club at 130 Davisville Road in Warminster, PA. Tickets are $60 each and include your choice of Filet Mignon or Salmon. Tables of 8 are available. Tickets can be purchased by contacting or by calling 267-250-8841. We look forward to seeing you at this very special event.

Renown Astronomer Derrick Pitts will speak at the Second Annual Spring Gala

c1960, Art Guntner (left) assists John Glenn after a flight in the Johnsville Centrifuge

Museum Set to Reopen on April 17th

The Johnsville Centrifuge & Science Museum will reopen on April 17th and will be open on the first and third Sunday of each month between 1 and 3:30 PM.  We look forward to this year as we commemorate the 50th Anniversary of Alan Shepard’s historic flight in May and take part in the year long celebration of Warminster’s tricentennial.  Looking forward to next February, we will commemorate the 50th anniversary of John Glenn’s orbital mission.  The Bucks County connection is cannot be understated as the American astronauts endured grueling training sessions on the world famous Johnsville Centrifuge right here in Warminster, PA until just before their missions.

We also have an exhibit of the Mercury Program currently on display at the Warminster Township Parks and Recreation office at 1101 Little Lane in Warminster as part of our own contribution to 100 years of Naval Aviation and Warminster’s Tricentennial.  The exhibit tells the story of the technology and people behind our nation’s early space exploration efforts as well as marking President Kennedy’s speech that put Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins on a trajectory to where no man had gone before.  It also commemorates the service members, workers and contractors who played a part in our success as a nation by contributing their services at the Naval Air Development Center.  Stop in and check it out when you are in the area.

Plans are underway for our Second Annual Spring Gala which will be held on Saturday, May 14 at the VE Club.  Details are on our home page at  We hope you come out to for a fun night to support us.  We look forward to seeing all of our friends at the Gala and at the museum as we kick off another great season.    

Finally, we recently were granted approval from the Smithsonian Institute to bring the original gondola that was used for training the Mercury astronauts back to Warminster.   We’ll have more details on the move soon.

Veteran Navy Corpsman Shares Stories Of His Part in Training of Mercury Astronauts

Retired Navy Corpsman Art Guntner made a trip to the Johnsville Centrifuge and Science Museum in Warminster, PA from his home in Inwood, West Virginia not knowing what he would find in the building where he worked as an Aerospace Medicine Technician (AMT) in the early 1960s. What he found was that the largest and most powerful human centrifuge ever built was still standing. Although it hasn’t run for more than a decade and the copper sheeting that once lined the 125 foot diameter chamber has long been removed, seeing the giant machine where he helped to train the Mercury astronauts brought back a flood of memories.

Art Guntner was born and raised in the mining town of Morgantown, West Virginia and is the son of Kathleen and Frank G. Guntner. The Guntner family is steeped in military service, his step-father was in the Army at the end of WWI, his father was a Marine in the Pacific in WWII, and his uncle Charles M. Blaney from Westover, West Virginia, fought on Iwo Jima and was present for the flag raising on Suribachi. A younger uncle, Robert Blaney, retired as an Air Force Master Sargeant.

Guntner joined the Navy in 1958 and graduated from Aerospace Medicine School in 1960. Immediately after graduation he was sent to the Naval Air Development Center (NADC), Johnsville, PA; located just north of Philadelphia. NADC was home to the Aviation Medical Acceleration Laboratory (AMAL) where the largest human centrifuge in the world was located. The centrifuge was built in the late 1940’s to test the limits of human endurance under the high G forces that were produced by the new jet fighters being used by the military. However, by late 1959 and into the early 1960’s the focus of training and research at AMAL turned to preparing the men who would be the first American space explorers.

Given the full schedules of the Mercury astronauts, it was impractical for them to be present for early runs or “flights” on the centrifuge that were made to determine baseline performance. It fell to younger staff members like Guntner to serve as the test subjects for the initial simulations. Over the course of his time at Johnsville, Guntner estimates that he endured over 350 flights in the centrifuge, more than any other test subject. Some flights pushed him to as high as 15 Gs. By way of comparison, a driver in the Indianapolis 500 sustains 4 to 5 G’s in the turns, and astronauts rarely experience more than 6 Gs at liftoff and reentry.

Art Guntner exits the gondola of the Johnsville Centrifuge in 1960 after one of more than 350 simulations.

When the Mercury astronauts arrived for their training, it was Guntner who briefed them on the results of the early simulations, telling them what they could expect from the experiences they were about to undergo. As an AMT, part of his job was to place the bio-medical sensor on the astronauts and monitor functions like heart rate and breathing as they took their rides on “the wheel”.

Guntner was soon working on a first name basis with the Mercury Seven and recounted stories of working with John Glenn and Alan Shepard. He recalled one time when another flight surgeon insisted in placing the bio-med sensors on John Glenn. After half an hour of placing the sensors and another half an hour of getting suited up, when initial diagnostics were run, several of the sensors were not producing any readings. At that point an exasperated Glenn looked at Guntner and waved him into the preparation room saying simply, “Come on, Art, show him how it’s done!”

Art Guntner assists John Glenn after a flight in the Johnsville Centrifuge

He recalled another time when he was called in on short notice on a weekend to work with the astronauts. His wife had other commitments that day and it was too late for him to find a sitter for his two year old daughter, so he brought her to work with him. It was a long busy day operating with a skeleton staff, so it fell to Alan Sheppard and John Glenn to take turns on babysitting duty. Art says that it is something that his daughter still talks about to this day.

During his visit, Guntner shared his many photos that were taken of him with the astronauts. At the time, Guntner knew that he was involved in a very special program but remained focused on the work he was doing as “just a job that need to be done, and needed to be done to the best of my abilities.” Guntner also recalled some interactions he had with Ham, the chimp whose rocket ride preceded those of any humans.

In addition to his work with the astronauts, Guntner’s work at Johnsville included testing the design of G-suits and the configuration of the space capsules interior control panel under acceleration, and many other classified tests. After his time at the Centrifuge, Guntner qualified as aircrew in the H-34 Seahorse, WC-121 Constellation, the WP-3A Hurricane Hunters, then the H1-N, the H-2 and H-3 helicopters. Guntner was a CICO, (combat information control officer) for four years, flying hurricanes and winter storms over the north Atlantic. Eventually his career took him to NAS Jacksonville, FL and other bases before retirement in 1979. Looking back on a full Navy career, Guntner is proud of the opportunity that he had to serve his country, but it is his time working with the first Americans to fly into space that he will always be the most proud of.

2010: Art Guntner returns to Johnsville to share his stories about his experiences working with the Mercury Astronauts.

Did you or someone you know work at Johnsville?  If you’ve got stories, we’d love to hear them.  Contact us at

Peddlers Village Scarecrow Contest

We are happy to be part of this years Scarecrow Contest at Peddlers Village in Lahaska. If you get a chance to visit Peddlers Village this fall, make sure to stop by and see “Neil Armstraw” on the main village green. You can vote for your favorite scarecrow up until September 30. Follow the link to and click on the box next to Neil Armstraw.

Message from the President

It has been 10 months since The Johnsville Centrifuge and Science Museum introduced its vision to the public. Our April open house, which featured Mercury Astronaut Scott Carpenter, was a great success and allowed us to present our goal of providing a first class science and engineering education center to the community. These plans have inspired dozens of volunteers to join us and prompted thousands of dollars in donations.

The museum immediately began its work and cleared the building of debris and has undertaken its first major construction project by removing 42 tons of concrete from the ceiling. Dedicated researchers have uncovered many exciting facts about the center and their exploration of the building discovered a few significant artifacts such as some original Mercury era couches and the “Mayo Tank”. We have retained an architect and a model maker who have produced exciting ideas for the use of the space. We have partnered with many organizations such as the Bucks County Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Warminster Tricentennial Committee. We look forward to the months and years ahead as we forge our role as an integral part of the community.

We have discovered some of the extraordinary expenses involved in this and for all our successes we also experienced limitations this winter as we were unable to provide heat for our Sunday tours. I am very proud of our dedicated volunteers who endured cold temperatures while continuing to give of their time.

As is the case with many non-profit organizations, The Johnsville Centrifuge and Science Museum has been impacted by the current economic climate. We receive no federal or state funding, and are wholly reliant on revenue from attendance at museum events, contributions from the public at large and donations from local businesses. We certainly appreciate the generosity of our current supporters however we have reached a critical point in our short existence and are in danger of not fulfilling our goals. We are making an appeal to the public and local businesses to help us. We believe that the Johnsville Centrifuge and the legacy of NADC’s technological innovation is worth saving. From the reactions of visitors, we know it is important to the community as well. Contributions of any size are appreciated. We would also like to find major donors and local businesses that are able to take a leadership role and help us succeed in our mission of creating a world class museum to inspire our youth to pursue an education in science and technology. If you are able to help, please contact me personally at or call me at 267-250-8841. Thank you.

Mike Maguire
President, Johnsville Centrifuge and Science Museum

P.S. We welcome the public to support us by attending our March 27th X-15 Event, our April 7th Apollo 13 40th Anniversary Event, or our May 7th Gala.

Greater Bucks Mont Chamber

Special thanks go out to the Greater Bucks Mont Chamber of Commerce for inviting me to speak at their luncheon yesterday.  It is always exciting to share the mission of the museum with the local business community.  Afterwards, a gentleman approached me and told me that he used to farm the land on the other side of the railroad tracks from the base (where the industrial park along Louis Lane is now).  He still remembers the day the monkeys escaped from the animal wing and took up residence in his barn. He also told me that he remembers the noise of the riveting from the factory and the roar of the Brewster Buffaloes as they took off from the strip near the factory.  His sister was even a receptionist at Brewster.  

If you or a family member has stories from days working at Brewster or NADC/NAWC we’d love to hear them and get them on record as part of our oral history.  Please contact us at