B.C. adds iconic Hawaii Mars flying tanker to wildfire-fighting arsenal

PORT ALBERNI, B.C. – The owner of the iconic, red-and-white Martin Mars water bomber says the British Columbia government has agreed to add the flying tanker to its wildfire-fighting arsenal.

The bomber, stationed in Port Alberni, B.C., was originally built for the U.S. navy for the Second World War, but has spent more than half a century dropping its 27,000-litre load of water on domestic and international forest fires.

Wayne Coulson of the Coulson Group of Companies says the tanker last saw action in B.C. in 2013 and the provincial government didn’t renew the company’s contract last year.

Coulson says he has been talking to the province for the last 90 days about recalling the aircraft into service but the government didn’t think it needed the help until about a week ago.

He says if the aircraft is needed, the government has agreed to “piggy back” it onto an existing contract where his company already supplies helicopters for firefighting services.

Coulson says the aircraft is effective because the “violent” flow of water from its belly can cover 1.6 hectares and douse some fires in just one drop.

“The reason that we have aircraft is to support the firefighters,” he says. “The reason we have aircraft is to protect people’s property when the firefighters can’t get to the property quick enough.”

Coulson says under a contract signed with the Chinese government, the Hawaii Mars was supposed to be available for service on July 20, but he says he will try to delay the deal until September.

The Hawaii Mars, with its 61-metre wingspan, was one of several aircraft built for a larger fleet known as the Martin Mars.

The aircraft were the largest seaplanes ever put into production. Howard Hughes’s prototype Spruce Goose was larger but made just one brief flight.