Martin, Sir James

SUBJECT AREA: Aerospace
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b. 1893 Co. Down, Northern Ireland
d. 5 January 1981 England
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Irish military aircraft engineer, inventor of the ejector seat.
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Martin acquired a general knowledge of engineering as an industrial worker in Belfast. In 1929 he established the Martin Aircraft Company, which was merged five years later with another concern to form the Martin-Baker Aircraft Company at Denham, Buckinghamshire. They became known for designing and constructing efficient, lightweight military aircraft, and Martin supervised personally every aspect of the work of his factory. During the Second World War they developed a number of aircraft weapons, including an explosive device carried on a bomber's wings for cutting the cables of barrage balloons, the flat-feed system for the 20 mm Hispano cannon used on British fighter planes and the twelve-gun pack mounted in the nose of the Havoc night fighter. Martin began devising means of rapid escape from a disabled fighter plane. First came a quick-release canopy for the Spitfire, followed by an improved form sliding on guides set in the fuselage. Then came the Martin-Baker seat, which ejected the pilot from his plane by an explosive charge. Ground tests were made to determine the rates of acceleration that could be tolerated by the pilot, and the first test in the air with a pilot took place in July 1946 at a speed of 320 mph (515 km/h) and an altitude of 8,000 ft (2,400 m). Its first use in a genuine emergency was in May 1949.
After the Second World War, the firm specialized in making components, particularly the ejector seat, rather than complete aircraft. The higher speeds and altitudes of supersonic jet aircraft made it necessary to modify the ejector seat: a device to hold the pilot's legs together, to prevent their being broken, was incorporated. In addition, with the Institute of Aviation Medicine, Martin developed a face blind to prevent skin damage at low temperatures. Another modification was to allow the seat to fall freely for the first 10,000 ft (3,000 m) to enable the pilot to reach breathable air more quickly; in October 1959 a successful demonstration took place at 1,250 mph (2,000 km/h) and 40,000 ft (12,000 m) altitude. During the inventor's lifetime, it is estimated that his ejector seat saved the lives of some 4,700 airmen.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
Knighted 1965. Barbour Air Safety Award 1958. Cumberbatch Air Safety Trophy 1959. Royal Aero Club Gold Medal 1964.
Further Reading
Obituary, 1981, The Times.
LRD

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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