'Martin's Aircraft Works' was founded by Sir James Martin as an aircraft manufacturer in 1934. The factory was established in 1929 and four aircraft prototypes were produced: MB1, MB2, MB3 and MB5. It was during the designing and testing of the MB1 where James Martin and Captain Valentine Baker started their friendship and ‘Martin-Baker Aircraft Company Ltd’ was established.

On 12th September 1942, during a test flight of the Martin-Baker MB3 prototype, Captain Valentine Baker was tragically killed. The engine seized and he was forced to make an emergency landing, during which the aircraft wing tip struck a tree stump, causing the aircraft to cartwheel. Captain Valentine Baker's death greatly affected Sir James Martin, so much so that pilot safety became Martin's primary focus.

In 1944, James Martin was invited by the then Ministry of Aircraft Production to investigate the practicability of providing fighter aircraft with a means of assisted escape for the pilot.

After investigating alternative schemes, it soon became apparent that the most attractive means would be by forced ejection of the seat with the occupant sitting in it, and that the most effective means of doing this would be by an explosive charge. The Martin-Baker ejection seat was then born.

Ejection seat testing

The Company's continued dedication resulted in number of milestones relating to ejection seat testing. The first static ejection test took place on 24th January 1945 by Bernard Lynch. The first mid-flight test ejection was then made on 24th July 1946, also by Bernard Lynch. He ejected himself from the rear cockpit of a specially modified Meteor 3 at 320 mph IAS at 8000 ft. The whole system worked successfully. Bernard Lynch made a perfect landing and subsequently made a further 30 ejections.

First ejection

The first ever live ejection took place on 30th May 1949, by Jo Lancaster. Jo was flying an Armstrong Whitworth AW52 aircraft and was forced to eject using a pre Mk1 ejection seat over Southam, Warwickshire. Many other milestones were achieved soon after, including the first live zero speed / zero altitude ejection in 1961 and in 1987 the first microprocessor controlled ejection seat.

Since the Pre Mk1 ejection seat, Martin-Baker has had over 7400 successful ejections and equipped over 200 different aircraft around the world.

Sir James Martin CBE, DSc, C Eng, FImech E, Hon FRAeS

(11th September 1893 - 5th January 1981)

Honours:

  • Order of British Empire (OBE) 1950
  • RAeS Wakefield Gold Medal, 1952
  • Commander of British Empire (CBE), 1957
  • Royal Aero Club Gold Medal, 1964
  • Knight Bachelor, 1965

Sir James Martin has been variously described as a nuggety, dynamic, sandy-haired Ulsterman, Churchillian in character, with extraordinary stamina, yet this does not adequately describe this quite remarkable man. Born in Crossgar, County Down, Sir James grew up on a farm, among people of sturdy independence. He was a man of strong personality, upright principles, with deep religious convictions, though he was not a church-goer. An ardent student of simple Biblical truths, he brought a clear, no-nonsense attitude to bear on all he did. From a very early age, James Martin displayed exceptional powers of inventiveness and, while still in his teens, had designed, made and sold a wide variety of machines. He had a great desire to invent and make things with his own hands, and, scorning conventional education, by dint of hard work and continuous study, he was an accomplished engineer long before the age of 21. His farmer father had died whilst Sir James was still an infant and his mother, wishing him to have a university education, took him to see a professor of engineering at Belfast University.

Sir James's recollection of the interview is that, after interrogation and discussion, the professor and he decided it would be wise and to their mutual benefit to terminate their acquaintanceship at this early stage. James Martin had no wish to spend time in university lecture rooms and laboratories when he knew he could be outside designing and making things. Whilst in his early twenties, feeling the confines of Ulster too restrictive on his ambitious outlook, Martin journeyed to London, arriving with ten pounds in his pocket and not knowing a single person in the whole of England. Frugality was essential at this stage and lodgings at modest cost were soon obtained, leaving a little money in hand to begin work. It was certainly not Martin's intention to take a job with anyone, and he was determined to start his own business.

How to secure an income and accumulate capital was now his dominant thought and work was begun at once to acquire a workshop and tools. A small shed was found in Acton at a low rental and this became the centre of James Martin's early activities. He recalled journeying some distance away to buy timber from a demolished building to make himself a workbench and travelling back to Acton carrying large planks on the platform of a London bus, much to the chagrin of fellow passengers. But from this modest origin grew the present strong company of which Sir James Martin was founder. In the early days at Acton, his remarkable gifts of design and engineering ingenuity were put to the task of developing and putting on the market a wide variety of useful and saleable machines ranging from small oil engines to specialised vehicles of all kinds. James Martin, in those days, was an all-embracing company. He was inventor, draughtsman, experimental engineer, toolmaker, fitter, assemblyman, salesman and, finally, delivery driver - it is on record that he designed and made a rather specialised road vehicle for a customer in Manchester and, on completion, drove it through the night in order to save the expense of hiring a delivery driver.

"Martin's Aircraft Works" was later founded as an aircraft manufacturer in 1934. The factory was established in 1929 and four aircraft prototypes were produced: MB1, MB2, MB3 and MB5. It was during the designing and testing of the MB1 where Sir James Martin and Captain Valentine Baker started their friendship and ‘Martin-Baker Aircraft Company Ltd’ was established.

Captain Valentine Baker M.C, D.F.C.

(24th August 1888 - 12th September 1942)

Honours: Military Cross, Air Force Cross

Valentine Baker was born at Llanfairfechan in North Wales. When the Great War broke out, he enlisted as a dispatch rider, soon to be promoted to the rank of petty officer. In 1915, in the fighting on the beaches of Gallipoli, he was severely wounded by a bullet in the neck. The doctors considered that any operation to remove the bullet would be fatal, as it had lodged near the spinal cord. Baker told them to "leave it alone", and the bullet remained in the back of his neck until the day he died. It must have been a source of continuous discomfort, but he never complained of it - in fact, only his family and a few friends knew anything about it at all. Following this injury he was discharged as unfit, but was soon accepted by the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, becoming a second lieutenant before the year was out. In 1916, an opportunity came for an entry into aviation and he was posted to the School of Aero Flying at Reading for flying training. On 25 September, 1916, Baker graduated as a flying officer Royal Flying Corps. A month later he joined the famous 41 Squadron of the R.F.C., at Gosport, with which he was to do all his operational flying and win his Military Cross and later the Air Force Cross.

His first civilian flying job, as a representative of the Vickers-Armstrong Aircraft Company, took him out to the Dutch East Indies, where he subsequently became attached to the Dutch Naval and Military Air Forces in Java as a flying instructor. After three years, he returned to England, but was soon off again, this time to Chile, where once more he combined demonstrations of new Vickers aircraft with flying instruction. On return to England, Baker became flying instructor at the Lancashire Flying Club, which he helped to build up, then chief instructor at the London Aeroplane Club at Stag Lane Aerodrome, Edgware. Baker's last, and most important, teaching job came in 1929, when he opened a school and became chief pilot and instructor for Airwork Limited, at Heston Aerodrome.

Valentine Baker gave up his instruction flying in 1934 to join his friend James Martin in the formation of a new company, ‘Martin’s Aircraft Works’. The incomparable flying experience and skill possessed by Baker was of great importance in the development and flight testing of the Company's prototypes.

On 12th September 1942, during a test flight of the Martin-Baker MB3 prototype, Captain Valentine Baker was tragically killed. The engine seized and he was forced to make an emergency landing, during which the aircraft struck a tree stump.

Captain Valentine Baker's death greatly affected Sir James Martin, so much so that pilot safety became Martin's primary focus.

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