The Martin Mars air tankers make their home at Sproat Lake. MIKE YOUDS PHOTO

Martin Mars waterbombers’ firefighting days are done

Wayne Coulson said his company still hopes to find a new home for the vintage aircraft

  • May. 21, 2018 10:30 a.m.

The famed Martin Mars air tankers continue to draw interest from potential purchasers, but their glory days as firefighting aircraft are probably past.

Wayne Coulson, CEO of Coulson Flying Tankers, said his company still hopes to find a new home for the vintage aircraft, the last two survivors of a family of giant flying boats built for the Second World War.

“We’re trying to find a respectful home,” he said, describing the aircraft as national treasures in Canada and the U.S. “They were the biggest warbirds built during World War Two, so they have significance to education.”

Typically, as wildfire season gets underway, public speculation arises about whether the Martin Mars — always an impressive sight, as largest air tankers in the firefighting fleet — would be pressed back into service. However, it’s been five years since the B.C. government announced it would not renew its contract for Hawaii Mars. Philippine Mars is no longer considered for active service.

READ: B.C. cities vote against 10-year Martin Mars contract

READ: Martin Mars waterbombers still hold appeal

“I’m kind of thinking those days are done,” Coulson said, noting that more advanced, faster and more powerful turbo-prop aircraft are preferred for fighting wildfire nowadays.

Coulson Air Tankers has maintained the aircraft to ensure flight worthiness, which is in itself a costly undertaking.

“They’ve lived outside their whole lives, but the upkeep is expensive,” explained Coulson. “We’ve had a couple of opportunities to sell them that we didn’t feel were justifiable. We continue to talk to people to find a home for them.”

The U.S. National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Fla., expressed interest a few years ago in the Philippine Mars, but that possibility appears to have lapsed.

“They just have higher priorities where they want to spend their money and time. They didn’t have the budget to build a hangar to store the aircraft,” Coulson said. A hangar capable of accommodating the Philippine Mars would cost about $4 million, he added.

The Glenn L. Martin Maryland Aviation Museum has also shown interest in the plane.

“It’s the one that has the more significant history. It was the biggest air ambulance in world during World War Two” and saw service during the Korean War, transporting wounded from Asia to California. “It was the biggest warbird ever built.”

Hawaii Mars hasn’t flown since 2016 and what Coulson referred to as “the Oshkosh incident.” The aircraft was scooping water for a demonstration at the fly-in event in Wisconsin when an engine warning light prompted an aborted take-off. The plane hit some rocks on Lake Winnebago, causing minor damage that was subsequently repaired.

Coulson Air Tankers is focused on supporting those efforts primarily in Australia and the U.S. with C130 Hercules and their new Boeing 737, which makes its debut this month as the world’s newest air tanker. The company’s fleet lent support during last year’s California wildfires. Advances have fostered a return of large air tankers.

“Going back five years, you didn’t see huge aircraft flying over peoples’ homes. It just wasn’t done. Systems used today are more precision based. The customers aren’t as risk-adverse about 155,000-lb aircraft flying over neighbourhoods. It’s a significant shift in the last five years. And the effect is significant.”

Anyone hoping that the Sproat Lake air tanker base might reopen to summer visitors may be disappointed. Coulson said there are no plans to resume the openings since summer is the company’s busiest time of year.

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

North Island to get new highway maintenance contractor

Ministry provides update on North Island projects and services

Campbell River schools, First Nations preserve traditional tongue

Project uses new technology to promote language to kids

‘Daddy bonus’ common in B.C. workplaces, study finds

UBC researchers say dads don’t have to be number one in the office to get a raise

Marijuana to be legal in Canada Oct. 17: Trudeau

Prime Minister made the announcement during question period in the House of Commons

Port Alice showcases piano and vocal students

North Island Song hosts year-end recital at Ocean View church

In reversal, Trump signs executive order to stop family separation

President had been wrongly insisting he had no choice but to separate families apprehended at border

New Jersey forward Taylor Hall wins Hart Trophy as NHL MVP

Vancouver’s Sedin brothers share King Clancy Award for humanitarian efforts

Vancouver Island nursery property sells in historic deal

Green Thumb Garden Centre and Nurseries in north Nanaimo sold

GoFundMe page launched for families of missing Vancouver Island fishermen

Search for three men whose vessel capsized near Tofino on June 15 continues.

50 new fires sparked in B.C. after lightning strikes across province

Similar conditions seen at the beginning of 2017 wildfire season

B.C. woman graduates high school at age 92

Nanaimo’s Joan Deebank the oldest high school graduate ever in B.C., as far as ministry can confirm

B.C. Appeal Court rules lottery winner must be paid back $600,000 loan

Enone Rosas won $4.1 million in a lottery in 2007 and loaned a portion to a friend

B.C. man surprised after used needle falls from sky

A Vernon resident said a syringe fell out of the sky and landed at his feet

Liquor review finds issues with B.C. wholesale monopoly

Report calls for ‘conflict of interest’ in system to be fixed

Most Read