Exhibition at Ulster Transport Museum to feature inventor who saved thousands of lives

Exhibition at Ulster Transport Museum to feature inventor who saved thousands of lives

25 August 2021

A CROSSGAR-BORN engineer whose pioneering invention has saved thousands of lives has been recognised in a fascinating new exhibition at the Ulster Transport Museum.

The airplane ejector seat has saved more than 7,600 lives since it was invented by Sir James Martin almost 80 years ago and has become a standard part of aircraft and pilot safety around the world.

Sir James and his invention are now featured in the Museum of Innovation, a permanent exhibition recognising pioneers from Northern Ireland who pushed the boundaries of engineering.

Born outside Crossgar in 1893, Sir James, who died in 1981, determined from an early age that he wanted to work for himself.

A major turning point in his life came when he started taking flying lessons with Captain Valentine Baker. They immediately struck up a rapport and became firm friends. They also became business partners and set up the Martin-Baker aircraft company.

Sir James was devastated when Captain Baker was killed while testing military aircraft and focused his mind on creating something that could prevent this happening again.

In the autumn of 1944 he started working on ejector seats, or pilot-assisted escape systems as they were called.

The following year it was ready for testing. The first person to test out the prototype was a volunteer Irishman named Bernard Lynch, who was a fitter with the Martin-Baker company. In 1945 Lynch ejected from a Gloster Meteor jet.

Clare Ablettt, from the Ulster Museum, said it must have been an “absolutely terrifying event”.

“It actually went so well that apparently where he landed was quite near a pub and he went in for a pint afterwards.”

The exhibition includes rare archive footage of the ejector seat being tested and early early prototypes of the seat.

Clare continued: “Northern Ireland punches above its weight when it comes to the amount of skilled people who have come out of the country and we want to highlight that.

James Martin has certainly contributed so much to aviation safety. Since they have been introduced Martin-Baker ejector seats have saved over 7,600 lives which is incredible.”