Glenn L. Martin began
manufacturing aircraft in the early days of aviation at the beginning of
the 20th century and went on to become one of the leading military
airplane manufacturers in the United States. He retained control of the
company for 40 years, hiring skilled engineers along the way, including
some who would establish their own successful aircraft companies—Donald
Douglas, William Boeing, and James McDonnell among them.
Martin established the
Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Company in Santa Ana, California, in 1912. The
first planes that he built for the Army Signal Corps were
trainers—designated the Model TT—using the design services of the newly
hired Donald Douglas. After delivery of the final TTs in early 1917 and a
brief stint as the Wright-Martin Company, Martin closed his California
factory and moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where he established a new Glenn L.
Martin Aircraft Company.
In early 1918, the U.S.
Army ordered the MB-1 from Martin, the first American bomber the Army
purchased, replacing the larger and slower Handley-Page and Caproni
aircraft. Douglas designed the airframe, which was the first built around
the new U.S.-designed 400-horsepower Liberty engine. The first MB-1,
designated the GMB (Glenn Martin Bomber), began flying on August 17, 1918,
and delivery of the ten aircraft began in October, too late to serve in
When the war ended,
aircraft orders stopped. Some small orders from the Post Office and the
Navy kept Martin in business until June 1920, when the Army ordered the
MB-2. Similar to the MB-1, the prototype bomber was so successful that 130
were ordered. However, aircraft designs were considered public property,
and government policy was to solicit competitive bids for its aircraft.
Martin's bid for the MB-2 was higher than other bids, and the Army ended
up ordering most of the aircraft from Curtiss, L-W-F Engineering, and
Aeromarine using Martin's design. The MB-2 was best known for the 1921
bombing tests of German warships under the command of Brig. Gen. Billy
Mitchell that proved the feasibility of bombing naval vessels from the
In spite of the success of
the MB-2, Martin could barely keep afloat, and the company shrank from
almost 400 to just 90 employees. Only a Navy order of four experimental
aircraft between 1922 and 1924 kept the company going. One, the MO-1, an
all-metal gun-spotting seaplane, had a fuselage framed in welded steel and
wings framed in an aluminium alloy. The only wood in the structure was in
the engine mount, where it was used to absorb vibration.
The company's fortunes
improved in 1924 when Martin underbid Curtiss on a contract for production
of a Curtiss scout bomber. The Navy purchased 360 SC-1s between 1924 and
1930—302 from Martin—and then 102 more with the large Pratt and Whitney
R-1690 Hornet radial engine. By 1928, Martin's workforce had grown to more
than 1,000. At this point, Martin sold both the factory and the designs to
Detroit Aircraft, which kept producing the aircraft under its subsidiary,
the Great Lakes Aircraft Company.
When Martin sold his
Cleveland plant in 1929, he built a new plant near Baltimore in Middle
River, Maryland. This plant was the first designed for metal aircraft
construction and, during the 1930s, was regarded as the most modern
factory in the United States.
By 1929, the Navy was
beginning to give increasing attention to a possible confrontation with
Japan in the Pacific. At the same time, its stock of flying boats was
wearing out, and the Navy turned to Martin for replacement flying boats
that would be equipped with the new top-secret Norden precision bombsight.
The Navy ordered 25 Martin Model 117 PM-1 biplane flying boats in May
1929, another five the next month, all using the anti-corrosive aluminium
alloy developed in the early 1920s by the Naval Aircraft Factory and the
Aluminium Company of America (Alcoa)—called Alclad, and nine monoplane
flying boats based on a Consolidated Aircraft design that was now public.
Martin was able to underbid Consolidated on the monoplanes because it did
not have to bear the development costs. However, even though Consolidated
no longer owned the design, it refused to release its engineering drawings
and data, and Martin was forced to measure and copy the aircraft. The
aircraft were not delivered until May 1931.
Martin also improved the
performance of the airfoil beginning with its Model 119 aircraft. It
mounted the engine nacelles (the engine enclosure) into the leading edge
of the wings in a smooth line instead of mounting them on struts, thus
reducing vibration and drag.
Among the military
aircraft in the interwar period, Martin's B-10 series—the 123, 139, and
166 models—stand out. Just as the MB series set the standard for bombers
of the 1920s, the B-10 set the standard for the 1930s. It was the first of
the modern all-metal monoplane bombers to be produced in quantity and the
first to successfully apply the new technology that used a streamlined
monocoque fuselage, variable-pitch propellers, thick metal wings with
lift-enhancing flaps, integral fuel tanks, internal bomb storage, rotating
gun turrets, and retractable landing gear. All crew positions were
enclosed, and the bombardier used early versions of the Norden bombsight.
With a top speed of 200 miles per hour (322 kilometres per hour), it was
50 percent faster than other biplane bombers and as fast as most of the
fighters of the day.
The request for a design
for an advanced bomber came in 1929. By the time Martin had developed the
design, in 1932, the country was in the depths of the Depression, and
winning the design competition was essential for Martin's survival.
Martin's design of the B-10, put together with the help of the Air Corps
Materiel Division, beat the competition from Boeing and Douglas.
In January 1933, the Army
contracted with Martin for 48 planes, worth almost $2.5 million. In March
1933, President Franklin Roosevelt presented Glenn Martin with the Collier
Trophy for aviation achievement. Martin accepted the award on behalf of
"everyone who worked on the design and who helped rivet it together." But
that wasn't good enough for the Air Corps Materiel Division, whose
engineers insisted that Martin should have said he "owed it all" to them.
The B-10s had an unusual
early use. In 1934, Postmaster General Jim Farley had cancelled all
airmail contracts with private carriers and given the job of carrying the
mail to the Army. The planes used were unsuited, the pilots were
untrained, and fatalities were high. Farley put the big B-10s into service
as mail carriers, vastly improving flight reliability and safety.
Airmail was returned to
the private airmail carriers in May. In July and August, the Air Corps, in
a show of strength, assembled ten B-10s and flew 7,360 miles (11,845
kilometres) from Washington, D.C. to Fairbanks, Alaska and back, under the
command of Colonel Henry "Hap" Arnold. This project proved the feasibility
of sending an aerial force to Alaska in an emergency and provided training
for pilots flying over isolated areas.
After these successes,
Martin assumed that it would be the only supplier of the B-10. But the Air
Corps planned to solicit bids for the planes. Martin countered by
requesting permission to export the planes to Soviet Russia, Brazil, and
China. It was denied permission but it received an order worth $7.5
million spread over 1934 and 1935. In all, the orders that the Air Corps
placed for B-10s between 1933 and1936 formed the largest purchase of
bomber aircraft since World War I.
In 1935, the B-10 carried
out the first army tests of the Navy's Norden precision bombsight. Its
success confirmed strategists' expectations that daylight precision
bombing could be effective even beyond the range of escort fighters. This
helped stimulate the development of larger, longer-range bombers,
particularly the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress.
By 1936, the Air Corps was
losing interest in the B-10 as a bomber and released the 139 model of the
series for export. The company sold 189 planes abroad. The Dutch were the
best customers, buying 120 planes to defend their Indonesian colonies.
Foreign orders continued until 1939 and the planes flew in a number of
military actions around the world. Some B-10s flew until the late 1940s in
Turkey and in Siam (now Thailand) and perhaps even longer in Argentina.