Martin Mars Fire Tanker Comes Calling
by Ed Anderson

Under overcast skies and bitter cold January weather, a huge fire-fighting water-bomber paid a visit to the inner harbour of Vancouver B.C. in conjunction with the Truck Loggers Association 65th Annual Convention, January 15-18, 2008. "Hawaii Mars" (C-FLYL), one of two existing Martin Mars Flying Boats, owned and operated by Coulson Flying Tankers of Port Alberni on Vancouver Island, treated throngs of shoreline spectators to an amazing demonstration of operational water drops, three days running.

The "Hawaii Mars" and sister ship "Philippine Mars" (C-FLYK) are the largest surviving airworthy flying boats in the world. These aircraft and two others, all ex-US Navy long range patrol and troop/cargo transports were retired from military service in 1959. Subsequently acquired by a consortium of Canadian forest companies in British Columbia, the 'Mars' were then converted to firefighting water-bombers. One however, the "Marianas Mars", was lost during firefighting operations in 1961, and another, the "Caroline Mars", was destroyed by a hurricane while ashore in 1962. The remaining two 'Mighty Mars' have since provided 46 accident free years of operational firefighting duties in Canada and the United States.


Anchored a short distance off the Canada Place Pier in Coal Harbour during its visit, the big red and white Flying Boat made for an impressive picture. The Martin Mars JRM-3 (s/n 76823) powered by four 18 cylinder 2,500-hp, Wright 3350-24WA Duplex Cyclone engines, can scoop water at better than a ton per second whilst "on the step" at a skim speed of 60-70 knots, then lift off and return, to drop a payload upwards of 60,000 pounds from its bottom-drop system. The "Philippine Mars", on the other hand, employs a side-drop delivery system. Throughout its' lengthy taxi run-up routine in the Burrard Inlet harbour, the "Hawaii Mars" firmly held the attention of all onlookers which numbers increased considerably on its return to the Coal Harbour egress point. Applied power to the big engines, lift off, and a 360 degree return to take on water, was a stirring intro for the long awaited performance that was to follow. Final approach of the giant fire tanker and the release of its entire load over the inner harbour was a scene almost beyond words. Spectacular, to say the least. Magnificent and graceful, the Martin Mars is a wondrous flying machine, ideally suited to its' now long-time role of fighting forest fires.

Even a summer airshow would be hard pressed to match what we had witnessed here in Vancouver in January. Hats off to Mr. Coulson, the crew Captain, the First Officer, Flight Engineers (2), and all involved personnel for their efforts in giving us the pleasure of watching the huge seaplane in action.

For further information on the 'Mighty Mars' fire tankers tap into Flying Tankers inc. or Coulson Flying Tankers websites.

Story and Photos

By Ed Anderson

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