The effects of inspiratory flow (V) and inflation volume (delta V) on the mechanical properties of the respiratory system in eight ARDS patients were investigated using the technique of rapid airway occlusion during constant-flow inflation. We measured interrupter resistance (Rint,rs), which in humans represents airway resistance, the additional resistance (delta Rrs) due to viscoelastic pressure dissipations and time constant inequalities, and static (Est,rs) and dynamic (Edyn,rs) elastance. The results were compared with a previous study on 16 normal anesthetized paralyzed humans (D'Angelo et al. J. Appl. Physiol. 67: 2556-2564, 1989). We observed that 1) resistance and elastance were higher in ARDS patients; 2) with increasing V, Rint,rs and Est,rs did not change, delta Rrs decreased progressively, and Edyn,rs increased progressively; 3) with increasing delta V, Rint,rs decreased slightly, delta Rrs increased progressively, and Est,rs and Edyn,rs showed an initial decrease followed by a secondary increase noted only in the ARDS patients. The above findings could be explained in terms of a model incorporating a standard resistance in parallel with a standard elastance and a series spring-and-dashpot body that represents the stress adaptation units within the tissues of the respiratory system.