Founded in the 1930s, Martin-Baker was focused on designing all-metal, high-performance aircraft with the most advanced technology available—and then arming them to the teeth with as many weapons as possible.
By the early 1940s, Martin-Baker’s powerful MB-3 prototype—the M.B.5’s predecessor—took to the skies for the first time. It achieved good speed (668 km/h) and aerial agility while carrying an unprecedented primary armament of six 20mm cannons.
In September 1942, James Martin, the lead engineer and founder of Martin-Baker, continued developing the MB-3. But fighter requirements changed in 1943 and he abandoned the MB-3 design to work on the M.B.5. Although borrowing characteristics from the MB-3, the M.B.5 ended up being a completely different aircraft.
The M.B.5’s primary armament was reduced to four 20mm cannons. In addition, a new Rolls-Royce Griffon 83 engine powering 2 contra-rotating propellers was installed.
The M.B.5 prototype was finished in 1944 and conducted its maiden flight on 23 May 1944. After resolving some minor stability issues and more than 80 hours of test flights, the M.B.5 was finally submitted for official, final testing in 1946.
During testing the M.B.5 achieved a top speed of 740 km/h and received high praise from test pilots for its superb cockpit layout. Maintenance crews also liked the M.B.5 for its ease of maintenance.
But because the Second World War had ended and the British RAF had begun replacing its piston engine aircraft with jet fighters. As a result, the RAF wasn’t interested in the M.B.5 and the project was eventually shut down. Attempts to sell the M.B.5 abroad also failed.
Bad market timing and newer jet technology ultimately stopped the M.B.5 from ever leaving the prototype stage. In addition, Martin-Baker eventually stopped designing aircraft altogether, and instead developed and manufactured aircraft ejection seats. This ultimately worked out very well for them, and today, Martin-Baker is one of the biggest brands in the field of ejection seat development—an achievement that often overshadows their aircraft manufacturing history.