British Columbia

Martin Mars water bomber not available until August, even if it were to be called out of retirement

Despite keen interest from the public, there's no indication the iconic Martin Mars water bomber will be pulled out of retirement to fight B.C.'s wildfires.

The province moved to smaller aircraft more suitable to B.C.'s mountainous terrain in 2013

The massive air tanker was built as a transport plane for the U.S. Navy in 1946 and is the largest fixed-wing water bomber in the world, with a capacity of more than 27,000 litres. (Canadian Press)

With wildfires raging in B.C.'s Interior, Wayne Coulson is once again fielding questions about why the iconic Martin Mars water bomber is not taking to the skies to help.

Coulson, the owner of Coulson's Flying Tankers in Port Alberni, B.C., says hundreds of calls came in over the weekend from people who want to see the 70-year-old air tanker pressed into service.

"Every time we get into fire season and there are bad fires, there are questions from the community about support," he said.

"If there is any interest from the new government, we would support of course wherever we could." 

The province ended its contract to use the air tanker in 2013, opting to move to smaller aircraft more suitable to B.C.'s mountainous terrain, although it was used for one month in 2015 to fight wildfires in B.C.

The massive air tanker was built as a transport plane for the U.S. Navy in 1946 and is among the largest fixed-wing water bombers in the world, with a capacity of more than 27,000 litres.

Symbol of firefighting might, but has limitations

But due to its size, the Martin Mars can only land on and scoop up water from about 113 water bodies in B.C., as opposed to the 1,700 water bodies that other smaller amphibious scoopers can access.

Coulson agrees the Mars is not suitable for every wildfire emergency, but he argues that it still has something to offer.

"The Mars has always been just one tool in the toolbox. When you get these large incidents, there is room for every aircraft."

But even if the province changed course and requested help from the Martin Mars, it would be weeks before it could join the fight against the fires in B.C., Coulson said.

The aircraft is currently undergoing maintenance as part of a program launched last year called the Ultimate Flying Experience, which allows pilots to pay for the experience of flying the giant airtanker.

That maintenance work will not be complete until August.

Coulson says he has also offered the services of two helicopters and crew which can fight fires at night using night vision equipment.

With files from Maryse Zeidler

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story called the Martin Mars water bomber the largest fixed-wing water bomber in the world. There are, in fact, other water bombers which are larger.
    Sep 28, 2017 11:55 AM PT

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