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Glenn L. Martin

airplane designer and builder

Glenn Luther Martin

Glenn Luther Martin was born in Macksburg, Iowa, on January 17, 1886, the son of Clarence and Minta Martin. His father moved the family to Salina, Kansas, in 1888.

Martin's interest in aeronautics began at an early age. As a boy, he sold box kites he designed and built himself. After high school he studied business at Kansas Wesleyan College, and by 18 owned a Ford dealership. He used the profits from his dealership to build his own airplanes, with help from some of his automobile mechanics. On May 10, 1912, he flew a self-built seaplane from Newport Bay, California, to Avalon on Catalina Island and back, a distance of 68 miles, to set a new record for over-water flight.

Soon after setting his record, Martin bought an old Methodist church in Santa Ana, California, converted it into an airplane factory, and established the Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Company. The majority of his early operating funds came from barnstorming, in planes he had designed and built himself. In 1915, he played "the pilot" in the Mary Pickford film A Girl of Yesterday. One of his roles in the movie required him to carry a camera while in flight, providing some of the first aerial scenes in cinema history. His company's first major contract was to build a line of trainers for the U.S. Army Signal Corps, dubbed the Model TT. The last Model TT was delivered in 1917.

Martin Model TT
Martin Model TT

After briefly merging with the Wright Brothers to form the Wright-Martin Company, Martin moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he established a new Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Company. In early 1918, the U.S. Army contracted with Martin to build its first ever American-made bomber, the MB-1. The first prototypes began flying on August 17, 1918, and the first ten completed planes were delivered in October, but World War I was already over by then and no more planes were ordered.

Small orders from the U.S. Post Office and the U.S. Navy kept Martin in business after the war, but only barely. In June of 1920, Martin submitted a design for an improved bomber, the MB-2. The Army accepted his design, but not his bid to build the new airplane. At that time, U.S. policy was that any design for military hardware became the property of the federal government upon its submission for approval, meaning that the company that submitted the winning design did not automatically get a manufacturing contract. Martin's bid to build the MB-2 was too high, so all of the 130 planes ordered by the Army were built by other companies -- primarily Curtiss, L-W-F Engineering, and Aeromarine -- using Martin's design. Although Martin did not get to build the plane, his company's design resulted in an airplane that proved the feasibility of bombing naval vessels from the air.

Losing the contract to build the MB-2 almost cost Martin his company. By 1924, his workforce had shrunk from almost 400 to barely 90 employees. An order for four experimental aircraft for the U.S. Navy was the only thing that kept the company afloat. Martin's fortunes turned in 1924, however, when he outbid Curtiss for the contract to produce a new scout bomber, ironically designed by Curtiss. The U.S. Navy purchased 360 SC-1's between 1924 and 1930, as well as another 102 with the larger Pratt & Whitney R-1690 Hornet radial engine. By 1928, his workforce had grown to over 1,000.

In 1929, Martin sold his Cleveland factory, as well as all of his designs, to Detroit Aircraft, which continued to build Martin-designed aircraft for many years. That same year, he built a new factory in Middle River, Maryland (near Baltimore), for the express purpose of building metal aircraft. His new factory's first task was to build a flying boat for the U.S. Navy capable of carrying the new Norden precision bombsight. Twenty-five Model 117 PM-1 biplanes were ordered in May, and another five were ordered the following month, all using a newly-developed anti-corrosive aluminum alloy; the Navy also ordered nine monoplane flying boats based on a Consolidated Aircraft design.

Martin's next major innovation was the B-10, the first all-metal monoplane bomber to be produced in quantity. The design featured a streamlined fuselage, variable-pitch propellers, wings with lift-enhancing flaps, integral fuel tanks, internal bomb storage, rotating gun turrets, and retractable landing gear. The plane had a top speed of 200 miles per hour, which was 50% faster than other U.S. bombers of the day, and almost as fast as most fighter planes. In January of 1933, the U.S. Army ordered 48 B-10's from Martin, in a contract worth almost $2.5 million. In March of that same year, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt presented Martin with the Collier Trophy for Aviation Achievement.

Martin B-10
Martin B-10

The B-10 soon proved itself to be a very reliable aircraft. In July and August of 1934, Colonel Henry "Hap" Arnold commanded a squadron of ten B-10's on a flight from Washington, D.C., to Fairbanks, Alaska, and back, a distance of 7,360 miles. The Army released the B-10 for export in 1936, and Martin subsequently sold 189 of them abroad, including 120 to The Netherlands, which purchased them to help defends its colonies in Indonesia. Many of the design features used in the B-10 were carried over into later aircraft, including the B-26 bomber and the "China Clipper."

Glenn Luther Martin died in Baltimore on December 5, 1955. The Glenn L. Martin Airplane Company became Martin Marietta in 1961.

Catalina Island
U.S. Army Signal Corps
Wright Brothers
World War I
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Collier Trophy

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This page was last updated on 09/23/2017.