Martin-Baker Aircraft Co. Ltd
Industry Aircraft ejection systems
Founded 1934
Founder Sir James Martin
Captain Valentine Baker
Headquarters Denham, Buckinghamshire, UK

Martin-Baker Aircraft Co. Ltd. is a British manufacturer of ejection seats and safety-related equipment for aviation. The company's origins were originally as an aircraft manufacturer before becoming a pioneer in the field of ejection seats. The company's headquarters are in Higher Denham, Buckinghamshire, England with other sites in France, Italy and the United States.[1]

Martin-Baker supplies ejection seats for 93 air forces worldwide.[2] Martin-Baker seats have been fitted into over 200 fixed-wing and rotary types with the most recent being the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II programme.

Martin-Baker claimed in 2016 that since the first live ejection test in 1946,[3] a total of 7,509 lives have been saved by the company's ejection seats.[4]

Martin-Baker also manufactures what it calls "crashworthy" seats for helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. As of 2012, over 20,000 crashworthy seats have been delivered. The Martin-Baker company continues as a family-run business, run by the two sons of the late Sir James Martin.[2]


"Martin's Aircraft Works" was originally founded as an aircraft manufacturer in 1934 by (later Sir) James Martin. The factory was set up in the late 1920s, where four aircraft prototypes were designed and built - the MB1, MB2, MB3 and MB5. During the design and testing of the MB 1 aircraft, James Martin and Captain Valentine Baker started their friendship and partnership with "Martin-Baker Aircraft Company Ltd" being established.[5]

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.[6]

In 1935, Martin and Baker designed and flew their Martin-Baker M.B.1, a two-seat light touring aircraft. Their first military design was the Martin-Baker M.B.2, a Napier Dagger–powered fighter that flew in 1938.[7] 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.[8]

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 Griffon engine driving contra-rotating propellers.[9][10]

Martin-Baker manufactured aircraft components, including armoured seats for Supermarine Spitfires, throughout the Second World War. In 1944 the company was approached by the Ministry of Aircraft Production to investigate ejection systems enabling pilots to bail out safely from high-speed fighter aircraft.

Ejection seats

Gloster Meteor WA638, owned by Martin-Baker and used for ejection seat tests
Meteor WL419 is also used for ejection seat tests
Martin-Baker Ejection seat MK.GT5 in the Republic RF-84F Thunderflash 1961–1976

Martin-Baker investigated ejection seats from 1934 onwards, several years before Germany and Sweden proposed similar systems in 1938. The company concluded that an explosive-powered ejection seat was the best solution. In particular, Baker's death in 1942 during a test flight of the MB3 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.[11]

In 1944, James Martin was asked by the Ministry of Aircraft Production to develop methods for fighter pilots to escape their aircraft.[5] Martin decided that the best method involved 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 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 (16 foot) 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 (3 inches), so that the seat was automatically arrested at the top of its travel.[12]

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 4 feet 8inches. In three further tests, the power of the cartridge was progressively increased until a height of 10 feet 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 (510 km/h) IAS at 8,000 feet (2,400 m) over Chalgrove Airfield in Oxfordshire.[13]

The first use of an ejection seat in a practical application by a British pilot involved the Armstrong Whitworth A.W.52 flying wing experimental aircraft in May 1949.

Martin-Baker was a pioneer in expanding the operational envelope of the ejection seat to enable it to be used at low altitudes and airspeeds, leading eventually to a "zero-zero" capability.

Martin-Baker also sponsors an "Ejection Tie Club," producing a tie, patch, certificate, tie pin and membership card for those whose lives have been saved by a Martin-Baker ejection seat. As of 2012, there are now over 5,800 registered members of the club since it was founded in 1957.[14]


The Martin-Baker company maintains its own airfield, Chalgrove Airfield, in Oxfordshire for operational testing of ejection seats. A second airfield, the former RAF Langford Lodge near Crumlin in County Antrim, is also used for testing, and houses a 6,200 feet (1,900 m) high-speed rocket sled track.

Two Gloster Meteor T.7 aircraft, WL419 and WA638, remain in service with the company as flying testbeds. Another Meteor (WA634), used in early development of ejection seats, is retained at the RAF Museum at RAF Cosford.



  1. "Facilities." Martin-Baker. Retrieved: 31 October 2012.
  2. 1 2 "Martin-Basker: About." Martin-Baker. Retrieved: 31 October 2012.
  3. "Martin Baker: Milestones." Martin-Baker. Retrieved: 31 October 2012.
  4. "Martin Baker." Martin-Baker. Retrieved: 6 August 2014.
  5. 1 2 3 "Martin-Baker: History and developments." Martin-Baker. Retrieved: 31 October 2012.
  6. Valentine Baker Retrieved 21 July 2013
  7. Flight 1939, p. 563.
  8. Johnson and Heffernan 1982, pp. 60–66.
  9. Flight 1945, pp. 588–590.
  10. Johnson and Heffernan 1982, pp. 67–73.
  11. Ingram, Frederick C. "Martin-Baker Aircraft Company Limited." International Directory of Company Histories, Volume 61, 1990. Retrieved: 23 April 2009.
  12. "Martin-Baker: Ejection seats, Mk 1–Mk 10." Martin-Baker. Retrieved: 31 October 2012.
  13. "Martin-Baker: Ejection seat and escape system technology." Martin-Baker. Retrieved: 31 October 2012.
  14. "Martin-Baker: Ejection tie club." Martin-Baker. Retrieved: 31 October 2012.


  • Bowyer, Michael J.F. Interceptor Fighters for the Royal Air Force 1935-45. Wellingborough, UK: Patrick Stephens Ltd., 1984. ISBN 0-85059-726-9.
  • Green, William, ed. "Mr. Martin's Memorable M.B.5." Air International Vol. 16, no. 2, February 1979.
  • Green, William. War Planes of the Second World War: Fighters, Volume Two. London, Macdonald & Co. (Publishers) Ltd., 1961.
  • Green, William and Gordon Swanborough. WW2 Fact Files: RAF Fighters, Part 2. London: Macdonald and Jane's Publishers Ltd., 1979. ISBN 0-354-01234-7.
  • Johnson, Brian and Terry Heffernan. A Most Secret Place: Boscombe Down, 1939–45. London: Jane's Publishing Company, 1982. ISBN 0-7106-0203-0.
  • "The Martin-Baker MB-V." Flight, No. 1927, Volume XLVIII, 29 November 1945. p588-590
  • "A New Multi-Gun Fighter: Dagger-Engined Martin-Baker Demonstrated", Flight, XXXV (1588): 563, 1 June 1939 
  • Zuk, Bill. Janusz Zurakowski: Legends in the Sky. St. Catharine's, Ontario: Vanwell, 2004. ISBN 1-55125-083-7.
  • Ramsden J, "Martin-Baker: 50 years, 5,000 lives, 50,000 seats" FLIGHT International, 26 May 1979 p1733-1735
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