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Martin-Baker Ejection Seats - Saving Lives for Over 80 Years

With a history spanning over 80 years, Martin-Baker is still run by the late Sir James Martin’s descendants to this day. Originating as an aircraft manufacturer, Martin-Baker’s passion has evolved over the decades, now focusing on an issue very close to both ours and our founders’ hearts.

Sir James Martin, an Irish immigrant and innovative engineer, began producing aircraft in 1929. He had always had a great desire to invent and make things with his own hands and, by dint of hard work and continuous study, was an accomplished engineer even in his teens.

"Martin's Aircraft Works" was founded at Denham by James Martin and Captain Valentine Baker, Capt Baker’s years of flying experience and incomparable skill were of great importance in the development and flight-testing of the company’s prototypes. With financial help from Francis Francis, the company built a prototype aircraft, the M.B.1, using the design patents for aircraft structures held by Martin. On 17 August 1934, the Martin-Baker Aircraft Company was formed to continue the work of aircraft development.

Martin and Baker designed an unconventional, two-seat, low-wing monoplane design in the early 1930s as the MB1. This was powered by a de Havilland Gipsy engine mounted in the fuselage behind the seats and driving a fixed-pitch propeller through a shaft running horizontally between the pilot and passenger. The project was abandoned due to financial constraints, although the fuselage and engine installation had been completed. Martin-Baker also constructed an autogyro designed by Raoul Hafner. This, their first complete aircraft project was later tested by Captain Baker at Heston Aerodrome.

Martin-Baker M.B.1

Their first military design was the Martin-Baker M.B.2, a Napier Dagger–a powered fighter that flew in 1938. It was a private venture to meet Air Ministry Specification F.5/34 for a fighter for service in the tropics. The M.B.2 was tested but neither it nor other designs to F.5/34 were adopted.

Martin-Baker M.B.2

In 1942 Martin Baker built the Martin-Baker M.B.3 a six-cannon fighter design, powered by a Napier Sabre engine. Captain Baker was tragically killed in a crash while testing the prototype. Baker's death during a test flight affected Martin so much that pilot safety became his primary focus and led to the later reorganisation of the company to focus primarily on ejection seats.

Martin-Baker M.B.3

The Martin-Baker M.B.4 was designed in 1943 to use the Rolls-Royce Griffon engine, Martin wasn’t happy with the design and the project was cancelled on the drawing board.

The Martin-Baker M.B.5 which first flew in 1944 had started out as the second MB3 prototype but was extensively redesigned with a tubular steel fuselage. It used the RR Griffon engine driving contra-rotating propellers, the same Engine used on the Spitfire Mk 19 and later the Avro Shackleton.

Martin-Baker M.B.5

In 1945 the Martin-Baker M.B.6 was built and test flown this was the first Second World War jet fighter project with a swing-arm, 0/0 spring-loaded ejection seat.

Martin-Baker M.B.6

The Martin-Baker M.B.7 Black Bess was envisioned in 1946, a post-war interceptor/high-speed test aircraft concept although small flying models were made the concept was cancelled in 1947.

Martin-Baker manufactured aircraft components, including retrofit improvements to the ammunition belt feeds and armoured seats for Supermarine Spitfires, throughout the Second World War. James Martin also designed and manufactured explosive bolt cutters fitted to bomber wings to cut barrage balloon cables that were fitted to many aircraft and saved a number of aircraft.

In 1944, James Martin was asked by the Ministry of Aircraft Production to develop methods for fighter pilots to escape their aircraft. Martin decided that the best method involved the ejection of the seat with the occupant sitting in it, aided by an explosive charge. After ejection, the pilot would separate from the seat and open his parachute by pulling a ripcord in the usual way.

At that time there was little information on how much upward thrust the human body could withstand. Data relating to "g" forces in the catapult launching of aircraft involved horizontal thrust and was therefore inapplicable to the new problem. Tests would have to be conducted to find out how much upward "g" force a person could tolerate. These were done by shooting a seat up a near-vertical path, loading the seat to represent the weight of the occupant, and measuring the accelerations involved.

A 5-metre test rig was built in the form of a tripod, one of the legs being in the form of guide rails. The seat was propelled up the guide rails by a gun, consisting of two telescopic tubes energised by an explosive cartridge. The guide rails were provided with ratchet stops every 75mm, so that the seat was automatically arrested at the top of its travel.

Studies were conducted to find the limits of upward acceleration that the human body could stand. The first dummy shot with the seat loaded to 200lb was made on 20 January 1945, and four days later one of the company’s experimental fitters, Bernard Lynch, undertook the first "live" ride, being shot up the rig to a height of 1,4 meters. In three further tests, the power of the cartridge was progressively increased until a height of 3 meters was reached, at which stage Lynch reported the onset of considerable physical discomfort.

The first seat was successfully live-tested by Lynch on 24 July 1946, who ejected from a Gloster Meteor travelling at 320 miles per hour IAS at 8,000 feet over Chalgrove Airfield in Oxfordshire.

The first production Martin-Baker ejection seat, a 'Pre-Mk 1', was installed in the Saunders-Roe SR.A/1 prototype it was the first jet-propelled water-based aircraft in the world.

Saunders-Roe SR.A/1

With over 70,000 ejection seats delivered to 93 air forces around the world, Martin-Baker offers a fully integrated escape system that satisfies the very latest in pilot operational capability and safety standards.

The Ejection Tie Club was founded by Sir James Martin with the primary objective to provide a distinctive tie to be worn with civilian clothing which provides a visible sign of the members' common bond.

Every Club member is given a certificate, membership card, patch, tie, pin or broach for the women. All Tie Club memorabilia depicts a red triangle warning sign, the recognised international danger symbol for an ejection seat.

The first pilot to be accepted into the Club was LCDR Anthony L. Cook, an RAF serviceman who ejected over what was then Rhodesia in January 1957. Since then, the Club has had over 6,000 registered members. The Ejection Tie Club is now run by Andrew Martin, the grandson of Sir James.

Lieutenant Linda (Heid) Maloney is the first woman in history to be ejected from an aircraft while flying a mission. She’s also the first woman to be inducted into a club where you have to have been thrown out before you can be let in.



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