Martin-Baker Aircraft Company Limited - Company Profile, Information, Business Description, History, Background Information on Martin-Baker Aircraft Company Limited

Higher Denham, Near Uxbridge
Middlesex UB9 5AJ
United Kingdom

Company Perspectives:

Martin-Baker is the world's longest established and most experienced manufacturer of ejection seats and related equipment to safeguard the aviator throughout the escape, survival, location and recovery phases.

It is the only company that can offer a fully integrated escape system that satisfies the very latest in pilot operational capability and safety standards offering a complete "end-to-end service" from helping the customer to establish operational safety and escape requirements, design, development and qualification, to ongoing support throughout the entire service life of the aircraft.

With headquarters at its original site in Denham, Buckinghamshire, locations in France, Italy and the United States, and representatives all over the world, Martin-Baker has established an extensive range of facilities and engineering capabilities to support ejection seat work, insuring that these products are of the highest quality and reliability, and will perform as designed--the first time. The Company continues as a successfully family run business headed by the Chairman who is the cousin of the late founder, Sir James Martin and his twin sons as joint Managing Directors. The directors, like their father, are engineers. They are great enthusiasts for the product and actively run the Company, day-to-day together with an extremely loyal and skillful workforce.

Martin-Baker appreciates fully that this equipment may represent the crew members' last chance to survive and that there can be no compromise. Every facet of the safety system from initiation, escape path clearance, ejection sequencing, stabilization, life support, parachute descent to final rescue, must work perfectly to safeguard a precious life. The aircrew member must also reach the ground uninjured, especially in a hostile environment, if they are to have the best possible chance of survival.

It is because of this understanding, backed by 55 years of continuous ejection seat manufacture that only Martin-Baker can offer a fully integrated escape system that satisfies the very latest safety standards. Only Martin-Baker has saved over 7,000 lives in more than 90 Air Forces.

History of Martin-Baker Aircraft Company Limited

Martin-Baker Aircraft Company Limited is the world's leading producer of ejection seats. With 70,000 seats produced and 7,000 lives saved as of 2003, no one in the industry has more experience. Seats cost up to $150,000 each; they are made with the knowledge that one in ten of them will be used. The firm also supplies related safety equipment, such as life rafts.

Martin-Baker has remained family-owned throughout its existence. The company's main facilities are located in the English countryside; some of its World War II-vintage buildings once housed captured German aviators. Martin-Baker still flies a 1950s-era Meteor jet as a test bed.

Martin-Baker controls between 70 and 75 percent of the market for ejection seats for Western-made military aircraft. The U.S. Navy traditionally has been its single largest customer; in 2000 the company opened two plants in Pennsylvania.


James Martin was born in 1893 in County Down, Ireland, the son of a farmer. A self-taught engineer, he established Martin Aircraft in 1929. In 1934 he was joined by a pilot friend, Captain Valentine Baker, in forming Martin-Baker Aircraft Co. Ltd. in Denham, England. Although Martin's engineering skills were admired, none of the firm's aircraft designs achieved commercial success. Baker was killed testing a prototype in 1942; this event set the course of the company's future focus on aircraft safety products.

James Martin is credited with a number of innovations in armament systems during World War II. His firm began developing its first ejection seat toward the end of the war. According to Reuters, it took some doing for Martin to convince the British government of the value of saving pilots with his invention. The high speeds of jet aircraft gave pilots no time to pop open the canopy and bail out conventionally.

The essence of Martin-Baker's ejection seat design would remain unchanged for decades: an aluminum seat shot from the plane via explosive charges. Germany had earlier developed a cruder, catapult-like system for their Messerschmitt 262 fighter; Sweden also had a primitive ejection seat.

The seat began trials in 1946 in a Gloster Meteor (Britain's first operational jet fighter). After the first live test on July 24, the Irish test pilot, Bernard Lynch, was able to walk to a nearby pub for a well-deserved pint.

The new ejection seat was soon being installed in the first generation of British and American jet aircraft. The company's first life was saved on May 30, 1949, when test pilot "Jo" Lancaster ejected from the experimental Armstrong Whitworth AW52 Flying Wing Jet near Bitteswell Aerodrome.

Supersonic in the 1950s and 1960s

After a decade of involvement with the company, the U.S. Navy became a virtually exclusive user of Martin-Baker ejection seats in 1957. A remarkable ejection demonstrating Martin-Baker's developments geared toward supersonic flight came two years later, when English Electric test pilot John Squier successfully ejected from a Lightning fighter at a speed of 1,250 m.p.h. and an altitude of 40,000 feet.

An important milestone--1,000 lives saved--was passed in 1965. James Martin was knighted the same year. During the 1960s, ejection seat technology made the switch from explosive charges to rocket motors.

The legal precursor to Martin-Baker Aircraft Co. Ltd., Stravale Trading Co. Ltd., was incorporated on January 3, 1966. Its name changed to Martin-Baker Aircraft Co. Ltd. on April 26, 1967. On April 5, 1993, it became a subsidiary of Martin-Baker (Engineering) Ltd., which transferred its manufacturing capacity to the company.

According to Aviation Week & Space Technology, Martin-Baker seats performed 700 successful ejections during the Vietnam War. Later, the company won a unique contract to retrofit Soviet-made MiG-19 fighters for the Pakistani air force.

In the 1970s, the company was developing its Mk. 10 seat to cope with a variety of difficult ejection scenarios, including zero-zero (airspeed and altitude), inverted, high-g, and underwater. Martin-Baker had escaped nationalization into British Aerospace Corp., noted Aviation Week & Space Technology. Much of the company's spirit of independence was attributed to founder Sir James Martin, who continued to come to work bright and early throughout the 1970s (he died in January 1981). In keeping with its self-reliant attitude and concern over quality control, Martin-Baker produced every component it could onsite. It did outsource parachutes (from GQ, Ltd.) and rocket propellant.

New Seats, New Techniques in the 1980s and 1990s

Martin-Baker had three main development programs entering the 1980s: retrofits of the Mk. 10; an ultra-lightweight seat for trainers and helicopters; and an advanced seat for the next generation of aircraft. With robust defense spending, production reached 100 seats per month by the middle of the decade.

The Mk. 14 Naval Aircrew Common Escape System (NACES) seat, first delivered to the U.S. Navy in 1989, was both high-tech and practical. It was the first naval ejection seat to incorporate an electronic sequencer (supplied by Teledyne-McCormack-Selph) allowing it to adjust for altitude and speed. Its modular design made it possible to switch units between different types of aircraft using a common set of tools and spare parts. Martin-Baker's production methods also were becoming more sophisticated as the firm invested in automation.

Martin-Baker formed an airline seat venture with Aircraft Interior Components (AIC) in September 1990. After studies on the danger of passenger and crew seating collapsing during crashes, the airline industry was looking for a crashworthy seat.

Ejection seats cost between £50,000 and £100,000 at the time. Martin-Baker had a 75 percent share of the market among aircraft made in the West. Employment had been scaled back to 1,000 workers as the company made increasing use of automation and defense contracts dwindled. By early 1992, Martin-Baker had claimed 6,000 lives saved. The company presented ejection survivors with exclusive Gieves and Hawkes ties.

Company founder James Martin's twin sons, John and James, became managing directors of the firm in June 1995. At the same time, their cousin, Dennis J. Burrell, was appointed chairman.

Revenue was £65 million in the fiscal year ending March 1997, reported London's Financial Times. Martin-Baker's main customer was the U.S. Navy; the U.S. Air Force preferred competitor McDonnell Douglas. Martin-Baker was able, however, to obtain a contract for supplying up to 1,422 seats for the joint services trainer. In the late 1990s, the company also was designing a three-man seat for the European spacecraft Hermes.

Opening a U.S. Transplant in 2000

In February 2000, the company announced plans to build two facilities in Pennsylvania. The first of these opened in June 2000 in Johnstown. Martin-Baker's experience with the state dated back to 1946, when it constructed a test tower in the Philadelphia Navy Yard.

This gave Martin-Baker a new ally--the Pennsylvania legislature--against the federal protectionism that had been brewing for decades. Martin-Baker's sole competitor in the United States was B.F. Goodrich Corporation, which had since 1986 built up its Evacuation Division through acquiring related businesses such as Universal Propulsion Co. The only other supplier of ejection seats for military aircraft was Russia's Zvezda Design Bureau.

The lucrative U.S. Air Force/Navy Joint Ejection Seat Program (JESP), which had been the focus of intense competition, faced a severe drop-off in funding in the federal budget for 2003. Sales of existing seats and retrofits of 1,500 older fighters and trainers for the U.S. Navy, however, kept Martin-Baker busy. The seats on these latter planes were being modified to accept a wider range of body weights to accommodate more female pilots in the fleet (the first female life saved by Martin-Baker was a U.S. Navy lieutenant who bailed from an A-6 in 1991).

Saving the 7,000th Life in 2003

Martin-Baker logged its 7,000th life saved with the bail-out of a Royal Navy pilot from a Sea Harrier on June 11, 2003. In fact, this was the second successful ejection for Lt. Commander Robert Schwab, who had bailed out of a Hawk trainer nine years earlier after its landing gear failed.

By this time, Martin-Baker had produced about 70,000 ejection seats in all. In a somewhat ironic development for a company whose existence was dedicated to saving human lives, Martin-Baker also was developing ejection systems for unmanned aircraft, to protect their valuable reconnaissance cargoes.

All of the seats the company had ever made were kept in production in order to support older aircraft still in service, such as the 1950s-era Canberra jets used by the Royal Air Force. According to Professional Engineering, Martin-Baker still employed Meteor jets, first used in World War II, as test aircraft.

Principal Subsidiaries: J. Martin Armaments Ltd.; Martin-Baker America Inc. (U.S.A.); Società Italiana Costruzioni Aeronautiche Martin-Baker (SICAMB); Société d'Exploitation des Matériels Martin-Baker (SEMMB) (France).

Principal Competitors: B.F. Goodrich Corporation; Zvezda Design Bureau.


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