If any firm typifies the entrepreneurial spirit of the UK aerospace industry over a number of generations, it is ejection seat manufacturer Martin-Baker. Founded just before the Second World War, it fired its first ejection seat in 1946 and has gone on to dominate the market ever since. Based in Denham, near London, the company has made 70,000 ejection seats - one in 10 has saved an airman's life. A prominent meter in the company's offices clocks up the successes to date: 7,061.

Martin-Baker has a 75% share of the Western market and 80% of its sales are exports. Current production is 400-500 seats a year. It has fought off competition from major US companies that have tried to break into the market. Its main rival today is Goodrich, which supplies several US fighters including the Lockheed Martin F-16. It has also fought off all offers to sell out and remains family owned.

Later this year, Martin-Baker will carry out the first test of the ejection seat destined for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter - the "evolution of 50 years of design", says business development manager Andrew Martin. Since the 1950s, the company has been sole supplier to all US Navy aircraft, including the Boeing F/A-18.

With fewer programmes coming on to the market, the company is looking at other growth areas, including support. "Historically, air forces would handle all this themselves but no one knows our products like we do," says Martin. "We are still supporting products we delivered in the 1950s." The trainer and light attack market remains promising, with some programmes in the offing: it already provides the seat for the Raytheon T-6 Texan.

Martin-Baker also branched out 20 years ago into helicopter crashworthy seats and has been selected to retrofit the Boeing UH-60 Black Hawk. It is also sole supplier for the Sikorsky S-92. It is a growing market, says Martin, "but barriers to entry are lower, so competition is higher".

Source: Flight International