My favourite aeroplane in 200 words #42: Martin-Baker MB3

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Despite never entering service, the MB3 has been indirectly responsible for saving 7553 lives (and counting). Friends and partners, James Martin and Valentine Baker had been designing unconventional monoplanes since the early 1930s. From the start they believed that aircraft should be as simple as possible. The MB3 was their response to a wartime RAF requirement for a fast, heavily armed, fighter. Formidably furnished with six 20-mm cannon, it was also designed for ease of maintenance and manufacture (unlike the Spitfire). Tests flights, which started on 31st August 1942, proved it was both highly manoeuvrable and easy to fly. Its top speed of 415 mph was a touch faster than the contemporary Spitfire Mk VIII. The main load-bearing structures were constructed of heavy tubing (or built-up spars) so it would have been able to survive greater battle damage than an equivalent stressed skin aircraft. It was not to be however: on a test flight on 12th September 1942, the engine failed soon after take-off, and the MB3 crashed in a field and killed its pilot, Capt. V Baker. Though the team had been investigating the idea of escape seats since 1934, it was Baker’s death that motivated Martin to focus exclusively on ejection seats.

–– Lucy Bentham 

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