Martin-Baker MB.2 Fighter Prototype
Largely recognized as an ejection seat-maker today, Martin-Baker began as an aircraft-maker prior to World War 2.
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Before the Martin-Baker name became associated with ejection seats in jet-powered aircraft, it established itself as an aircraft maker just prior to World War 2 (1939-1945). The company was formed by (Sir) James Martin as "Martin's Aircraft Works" during 1929 and became the "Martin-Baker Aircraft Company Ltd" in 1934 when Martin partnered with Captain Valentine Baker. Their first joint venture become the civilian market-minded Martin-Baker "MB.1".
Martin-Baker introduced to Britain its first true modern low-wing monoplane form at a time when biplanes were still making up the air service. Its early work on aircraft brought along an all-new construction scheme which simplified both manufacture and maintenance while also proving a weight-saving measure. The aircraft that became the MB.1 aeroplane used a Napier "Javelin" 6-cylinder inline piston engine of 160 horsepower to drive a two-bladed propeller. The cockpit was wholly enclosed for a most modern appearance though the undercarriage used fixed main legs. In testing that occurred during 1935, the aircraft clocked speeds of 125 miles per hour. However the design was not evolved past this sole flyable prototype but nonetheless influenced the still-to-come designs to emerge from the company.
The MB.2 itself was in the works as early as 1935 and its construction began in the following year. The fuselage qualities of the MB.1 were employed into the new aircraft to produce a lightweight form with inherently good aerodynamic qualities. Again the aircraft was being worked on under the guise of a private venture but thought eventually turned to it fulfilling the standing Air Ministry's Specification F.5/34, which appeared in November of 1934, calling for a modern frontline fighter capable of speeds reaching 275 miles per hour and with a service ceiling up to 33,000 feet.
The MB.2 emerged as another low-wing monoplane form, the wing mainplanes fitted well-ahead of midships. The engine was held in a compartment at the nose driving a two-bladed propeller unit and the cockpit was seated over the center of the design. Though with a framed canopy, views out-of-the-cockpit were generally good for this type of aircraft configuration - though the long nose and large wing area reduced vision from certain angles. The empennage constituted a single vertical fin and mid-mounted horizontal planes, the latter elevated to clear the wash of the mainplanes ahead. The undercarriage was of a "tail-dragger" configuration and utilized fixed, spatted main legs. A small tail wheel brought up the rear. The aircraft was powered by a Napier-Halford "Dagger III" air-cooled radial piston engine of 1,020 horsepower.
A first flight involving MB.2 was had on August 3rd, 1938 with Captain Baker at the controls. The Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (AAEE) served the British Air Ministry as its research arm (from 1918 until 1992) and was able to evaluate this early form - docking points off for the aircraft's reliance on a rather outdated fixed undercarriage design (retractable main legs were quickly becoming the norm). Further testing resulted in a modification of the vertical tail fin to counter heavy take-off "swings" and in-flight stability, the latter in play once some speed had been gained.
The revised MB.2 model took to the air with its new tail on May 24th, 1939. The Air Ministry then moved on its own trials for the aircraft which was now known under the marker of "P9594". In the months that followed, handling was found to be quite good and the initial stability issues largely rectified. However, with the outbreak of war in Europe during September of 1939, Ministry interest in the MB.2 ended at it was largely seen that the MB.2 offered little in the way of advancement over the current crop of fighters available to the RAF and RN services. The fixed undercarriage was another major sticking point that dated the MB.2 as a modern fighter, a quality carried over from a previous age of flight. From then on the aircraft languished without much fanfare until scrapped before the end of the war (1945).
As tested, the MB.2 revealed a maximum speed of 304 miles per hour, a service ceiling of 29,000 feet, and a rate-of-climb equal to 2,200 feet-per-minute. As a fighter development, proposed armament was 8 x 0.303 caliber machine guns - to be fitted as four guns to a wing. This never occurred.
The MB.2 was succeeded by the development of the MB.3, this form introduced to fulfill Air Ministry Specification F.18/39. The aircraft is detailed elsewhere on this site.