Wayne Coulson, on the Martin Mars and their C-130

Philippine Mars
Philippine Mars, July 17, 2014. (Screen grab from the Coulson video below.)

AirInsight recorded a very interesting audio interview today with Wayne Coulson, the CEO of Coulson Flying Tankers. Most of the interview covered the history of their two Martin Mars aircraft, the Philippine Mars and the Hawaii Mars, but he also discussed their C-130Q air tanker that carries 4,000 gallons of fire retardant. You can listen to it below.

The Martin Mars, built in 1945, were converted to water scooping air tankers and are not amphibious like the CL-215/415 — they always have to land on water. The huge aircraft can carry 7,200 gallons of water which can be mixed with gel concentrate to drop on fires.

The Hawaii Mars has been busy fighting fires off and on for quite some time, however it does not have a contract this year and is for sale, Mr. Coulson said. They have been talking to an interested buyer who wants to put it in a warbird collection in Hawaii, but nothing is finalized yet.

Below is an excerpt from the August, 2014 issue of a Coulson company newsletter in which Mr. Coulson describes some of the recent history of the aircraft:

We took the Hawaii Mars to the October, 2007 San Diego fire storm in Southern California. In 2008, we spent the summer at Lake Shasta in Northern California when the State declared a National Emergency after thousands of lightning strikes. 2009 led us to Southern California with the USFS, where we spent 160 days in the Los Angeles basin at Lake Elsinore. 2010 brought us back to BC which was a slow fire season. In 2011, we got out early and performed a 20-day contract in Mexico that was featured on a Discovery Channel show, Mighty Planes; we then ended up spending the rest of the fire season in Alberta. In 2012 and 2013, the Mars was back in BC.

The Philippine Mars has not seen firefighting action in years. In the May, 2014 newsletter Mr. Coulson wrote about the plans for the aircraft:

We continue to make progress on the transfer of the Philippine Mars to the Pensacola Naval Museum located in Florida.

This project has been three years in the making and I believe this summer we will be delivering the Mars to Pensacola as we continue to finalize the paperwork.

The trade will allow us to acquire two C-130 Hercules aircraft, currently located at the Museum, which will become a significant parts supply for our firefighting C-130. We will be sending a team to Pensacola to retrieve these aircraft and I will continue to provide updates as we move forward. Other aircraft that will be part of this trade will be a Grumman F6F Hellcat. For your information, the Grumman F6F Hellcat was one of the best aircraft carrier fighters in the Pacific theatre in 1943 and was superior to the Japanese Mitsubishi Zero.

The other aircraft of interest is the NK 1 Japanese Rex which was built in 1943 as a float plane fighter. This aircraft also operated in the Pacific theatre, and, once we receive these two colourful aircraft, we will provide the interesting history of each unique flying machine.

In the interview Mr. Coulson said he expects they will fly the Philippine Mars to Pensacola in October. With a 14-hour range, they could fly non-stop, however going over the Rocky Mountains without deicing capability would be problematic, so they are planning to land at Lake Elsinore in southern California to refuel, then fly direct to Pensacola from there.

The video below, recorded on July 18, 2014, shows the  Philippine Mars with all four engines running for their weekly start.

7 thoughts on “Wayne Coulson, on the Martin Mars and their C-130”

  1. Very interesting interview. Having worked a great deal with both Mars aircraft since 1990, I can attest to the amazing flying machine that it is. People have differing opinions about how effective the Mars may be as a firefighting aircraft, but in its niche (heavy coastal timber and slash on or near a large lake or saltwater inlet), it was unbeatable. Unfortunately, the realities of firefighting in southern California and the interior of BC made the Mars relatively inefficient in most other locations, and even the changing economics on the west coast led to its sale by FIFT in 2007.
    Mr. Coulson hits the nail on the head when he stated: “the Mars is like a helicopter”. Yes, and that’s how fire managers in BC have treated it in the past several years. It can outperform many of the heavy (and expensive) Type 1 helicopters in many situations, but the development of aircraft like the FireBoss in turn outperformed the Mars for much less cost, signaling an evolutionary shift (kinda like the small mammals that began to appear in the late Cretaceous period, just before the asteroid hit).

    It’s a shame the Mars never gained traction in Ontario, because that is great skimmer country, and even a flying boat would perform better there than in western North America (due to fewer terrain challenges and an abundance of water sources). But the government of Ontario owns and operates its fleet of CL-415s, and is not interested in contracting private aircraft. Smaller private amphibious skimmers are rarely requested except in extreme fire seasons.

    Because of the lack of a restricted aircraft category in Canada, Mr. Coulson is again correct when he claims the Mars is in great physical condition due to federally enforced maintenance standards. The Mars not being offered a contract is not because it is old, but because it no longer met the efficiencies demanded by fire agencies spending taxpayer money. Nobody doubted that structurally, the Mars is almost as good as new and has the benefits of great avionics, superior support and a top-notch team of pilots, flight engineers and mechanics. The older airtankers currently in use in Canada & Alaska (Convairs, Electras) are also maintained to a similar standard, which has not always been the case with some of the now-defunct US-based companies.

    I wonder under which circumstances a Mars can carry “4 Skycrane loads” and if they added 9 hours of fuel each day in Mexico, what that meant in terms of water capacity, but no matter, it remains a very impressive airplane. It’s a shame it will end up in some museum or private collection, where few if any people will hear and feel the extraordinary sound it made as it scooped past your cabin or dropped overhead.

    British Columbia bore the brunt of the private and public backlash when it decided not to renew the Mars contract, but given that the province benefited from over half a century of its use, the airplane will still be remembered fondly.

    1. Excellent write up. I worked a two week assignment with the Mars in Elsinore back in 2010. Great plane and the Coulson folks were true professionals. I hope the folks working with the Mars have found new assignments either with Coulson or in the industry. Great job!

    2. never thought you could ever say a good word about the mars operation Chris. lets face it you guy`s are under staffed in manpower and aircraft on an average fire season and keeping the mars operational is a small chunk off change compared to the timber that was lost last year so give coulson vancouver island to look after and BCFS the rest off the province . It makes no sense to shut down a firehouse when the fire hazard is getting worse not better.

  2. In the verbiage of my teenagers and said with a high pitched voice “NAILED IT!”. I too have worked with the MARS for decades. I could drone on for hours, and have, about this and that and why A is better than B and C is best of all but thats been done and no one will ever agree on all points. Politics have kept certain aircraft going as much as they have put them too an end. Efficiencies and business models have done the same. What it comes down too, in my opinion, is what’s best for the tax payer. If this is always the driving force behind decisions then , right or wrong, those are acceptable decisions.

  3. Very well written Chris.

    I worked with the Mars on the Coast for 10 seasons and they were definitely at their best in the Coastal slash. They were a couple of times when I got caught in the middle of the block, only to look up and see the Mars coming with a big ball of water and foam underneath it and think to myself, “Crap”.

    It should also be noted that the province did offer them a “As Needed” contract, but they never heard back from Coulson.

  4. Hello Wayne, we need our water bombers more than ever now, we have fires on both sides of us, screw the government, get the bombers out there to put these fires out. Thanks Pat Rueschmann

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