Looking back at the Martin Mars

Martin Mars 2009
The Hawaii Martin Mars was photographed near Hemet, California by JD Davis, October 2009.

In spite of the fact that it has been about four years since the massive Martin Mars has assisted firefighters on the ground by dropping 7,200 gallons of water, the unique nature of the huge flying boat remains  vividly in the memory of those who worked with it, under it, or were a part of the air crew on the seven aircraft that were built in the 1940s. It is hard to forget the sound of those four 18-cylinder big-ass 2,500 hp radial engines. They could typically carry 32,000 pounds of cargo, 133 troops, or up seven Willys MB Jeeps.

Don Hoover worked on Martin Mars crews while he was in the US Navy, serving as 2nd or 3rd Engineer on the last four that were still in service when the U.S. Navy shut down the program in 1956. He said his tasks included setting power, wing checks, weight and balance, fuel transfers,  tracking fuel vs. time/distance, and assisted in attaching mooring lines. A common configuration was for 40 passengers, from all branches of the military and dependents. Cargo consisted of anything from medicines to aircraft engines. Some of the more memorable flights, Mr. Hoover said, were when they lost an engine after taking off from Hawaii, and the time they replaced an oil strainer in flight after departing from NAS Alameda at San Francisco Bay.

Philippines Mars Jet Assisted Take Off
Philippines Mars conducting a Jet Assisted Take Off. U.S. Navy.

He said he also remembers the time they used Jet Assisted Take Off rockets at Kihi Lagoon in Hawaii as they departed with 92,000 pounds gross weight on the way back to California.

All seven of the Martin Mars had names–

  • Old Lady, delivered in 1942. The prototype; was scrapped in 1945.
  • Hawaii Mars I, delivered in 1945. Sank in the Chesapeake Bay in 1945 and was scrapped.
  • Marshall Mars, delivered in 1948. It was destroyed by an engine fire and sank April 5, 1950 off Diamond Head, Oahu, Hawaii.

The four Martin Mars below were retired by the US Navy in 1956 and sold in 1959 to Forest Industries Flying Tankers, a consortium of British Columbia forest companies, who converted all four into 7,200-gallon firefighting air tankers with retractable scoops on the hull to refill the tanks while skimming across the surface of a lake.

  • Philippine Mars, delivered in 1946. Still exists at Coulson Aviation near Port Alberni, BC. It has not been used on a fire since about 2007. The livery has been restored to the original Navy colors. Internally it is still in airtanker configuration with the tank and probe system.
  • Marianas Mars, delivered in 1946. Crashed into Mount Moriarty near Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, on June 23, 1961. While working on a wildfire the water drop mechanism failed, leaving the aircraft unable to climb quickly enough to clear a mountain. The crew of four were killed.
  • Hawaii Mars, delivered in 1946. Still exists at Coulson Aviation near Port Alberni, BC. After being acquired by Coulson it was on contract to fight wildfires for BC until 2013 but was rarely used. It was last operated commercially in 2015 to train Chinese flying boat pilots and also worked on a 30-day firefighting contract that year with British Columbia.
  • Caroline Mars, 1948. Using a special configuration, it set the record for passenger lift on February 25, 1949 when it carried 218 men from NAS North Island, San Diego to NAS Alameda on San Francisco Bay. On October 12, 1962 while parked on its beaching gear onshore at the Victoria International Airport on Vancouver Island, it was damaged beyond repair by Typhoon Freda when she was blown 200 yards across the airport.

In 2007 the two that had survived, Hawaii and Philippine, were sold to what is now Coulson Aviation, based near Port Alberni, British Columbia. The Hawaii Mars was used to fight fires in BC, and in 2008 and 2009 the US Forest Service used it on call when needed contract assignments in California at Lake Shasta and Lake Elsinore. In 2011 it received a 20-day contract to fight fires in Mexico.

“We have a team working on getting [the Hawaii and Philippine Mars] back in serviceable condition and have big plans for them for the end of 2020 or early 2021”, Britt Coulson of Coulson Aviation said December 5. “We have not released what our plans are yet.”

The first two minutes of the video below has some excellent shots of the Hawaii Mars dropping on a small fire near Powell River, BC in 2013.

Before FireAviation.com was born in 2012 we wrote about the Martin Mars numerous times on Wildfire Today. The articles are tagged Martin Mars.

Coulson's Martin Mars
Coulson’s Martin Mars Flying Boat during a take off run at Lake Elsinore at in Southern California.

Continue reading “Looking back at the Martin Mars”

Martin Mars damaged at Wisconsin airshow


(Note to our readers: the above video was shot several days ago during a successful demonstration flight of the Martin Mars.)

The Martin Mars struck shallow rocks in Lake Winnebago on Friday while doing a demonstration during Wisconsin’s EAA AirVenture Oshkosh airshow, according to a Canadian news report.

Pilots were scooping water out of the lake when an engine warning light came on, and they were forced to abandon take off. The plane struck shallow rocks, which punched a few repairable holes in the plane’s belly, according to the news report.

Martin Mars demonstration flight in Oshkosh, WI

Martin JRM Mars demonstrates a water drop at Oshkosh, WI on 25 July 2016 for EAA AirVenture 2016 at Whitman Field.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Al and Fred.

Coulson had both Martin Mars aircraft in the water this week

Coulson has been working on both of their Martin Mars aircraft, the Hawaii Mars and the Philippine Mars. At one point this week both of them were floating in Sproat Lake adjacent to the Coulson facility for the flying boats.

Philippine Mars
The Philippine Mars on Sproat Lake this week. Alberni Valley News photo by Susan Quinn. See numerous other Mars photos at their website.

The company has repainted the Philipine Mars. It no longer has the red and white air tanker colors and now resembles its original military paint scheme. Coulson is still pursuing a plan to sell or trade the aircraft.

The Hawaii Mars is scheduled to make its first trip to the Oshkosh air show July 25 through July 30.

If you like the sound of four 18-cylinder big-ass radial engines, turn up the sound for this video.

Martin Mars to participate at Oshkosh 2016

Martin Mars scooping water
Martin Mars scooping water. Coulson photo.

The organizers of EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2016 announced that the Martin Mars flying boat airtanker is scheduled to participate in their 64th annual Experimental Aircraft Association fly-in convention, July 25-31 at Wittman Regional Airport in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

During the event, the massive airplane will be parked near the EAA Seaplane Base on Lake Winnebago a few miles east of the main fly-in grounds. It will also perform several demonstrations throughout the week during the daily afternoon air shows.

The two Martin Mars aircraft now owned by the Coulson Group, the Philippine Mars and the Hawaii Mars, were converted to water scooping air tankers. They 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 Mars no longer have contracts to fight fires.

The Coulson Group plans to bring the Hawaii Mars to Oshkosh. 

“This is the last flying Mars in the world and the largest warbird ever built,” said Wayne Coulson, chief executive officer of Coulson Flying Tankers. “There isn’t a better aviators venue than EAA AirVenture, so it’s an honor to be part of this world-class event. We’re very excited to bring the Hawaii Mars to Oshkosh as we look for new opportunities and host potential clients, as well as showcase this magnificent airplane’s capabilities.”

Martin Mars drops on a fire near Skutz Falls, Vancouver Island

(Originally published at 8:52 a.m. PT, July 29, 2015)

Martin Mars on Skutz Falls Fire
Martin Mars on Skutz Falls Fire. Screen shot from video by Jody Kerrone.

This image of the Martin Mars dropping on a fire near Skutz Falls on Vancouver Island yesterday is a screen shot from a video by Jody Kerrone. We are unable to embed the video here, but you can see it on the Wildfire Today Facebook page.

The Martin Mars was preceded by a jet-powered lead plane, or Bird Dog as they are called in Canada.

The British Columbia Wildfire Service reports that the fire is 10 hectares (25 acres). Two helicopters were also working on the fire.

As far as we know, this is the second fire the Martin Mars has dropped on in the last couple of weeks.


(UPDATE at 1:46 p.m. PT, July 29, 2015)

Wednesday afternoon Coulson Flying Tankers released the following information about the mission:


“Last night the Mars made a total of six drops on the fire at Skutz Falls. The drops averaged 21,600 litres [5,706 gallons] per drop for a total of 130,000 litres [34,342 gallons] in approximately 1.5 hrs, beginning with the first scoop at 7:30 p.m.

The turn times averaged 15 minutes per drop which was excellent with some 8 minutes drop cycles. As there were other aircraft working on the fire we had to allow them the time to get clear prior to each drop. It was an example of great teamwork, working in tandem with the other aircraft.

The current fuel load allows the Mars to stay airborne for approximately 6 hours prior to refueling. With this much fuel on board at the beginning of the scooping cycles we have to scoop a few smaller loads until we burn enough fuel to get up to maximum load capacity.

Every aircraft is the same with regard to maximum fuel load. All aircraft have to balance the amount of fuel on board and take into account the outside air temperature as well as working altitude and then factor in the load capabilities. However for the most part smaller aircraft carry only enough fuel for a maximum of 3 hours.”

Martin Mars completes first mission on BCWS contract

Martin Mars after July 18 mission
Martin Mars on Sproat Lake after a July 18, 2015 mission. Coulson Photo.

On Saturday, July 18, the Martin Mars flying boat completed its first mission under their new 30-day contract with the British Columbia Wildfire Service. According to Coulson Flying Tankers, the owner of the water-scooping air tanker that can hold up to 7,200 gallons, the aircraft flew a total of 8 hours. Of that, 4 was spent ferrying across the province and back, and the other 4 was used to drop 9 loads of water for a total of 52,800 gallons. They did it without having to land and refuel.

Coulson said the aircraft dropped 158,503 gallons in one day on fires near Lake Shasta in northern California in 2008. In the late 1970s, according to the Coulson company, the Hawaii Mars dropped 200,000 gallons in one day.

Martin Mars gets 30-day contract

Martin Mars test
A Martin Mars test water drop over Sproat Lake on Vancouver Island, B.C., July 10, 2015. Coulson photo.

The Martin Mars 7,200-gallon flying boat air tanker has received a 30-day contract with the government of British Columbia. It was serviceable on Sunday, July 12 but since then has not been dispatched to any fires.

CKNW AM radio is reporting that the contract specifies a daily availability rate of $15,000 and a flight hour rate of $6,000. The average rates for the 14 large air tankers that the U.S. currently has under exclusive use contracts are a daily rate of $22,901 and $8,408 for each flight hour. Of those 14 air tankers, 13 of them can carry up to 2,000 to 4,000 gallons, and the DC-10 holds 11,600 gallons.

On their Facebook page, Coulson Flying Tankers, the company that owns the two Martin Mars air tankers, explained how this 30-day firefighting contract will affect their previous plans to train pilots from China who will be flying a new amphibious aircraft now being built:

…Coulson has a contract with International Test Pilot School (ITPS) from Ontario, Canada dating back to October of 2014. The contract is for Chinese Test Pilots to familiarize themselves with the largest float plane in the world.

The Chinese government currently has under construction the second largest seaplane in the world called a TA 600, which these pilots will be flying.

The original contract was between July 20 to July 30, but a modified contract is now in place where the aircraft will train the test pilots between July 20-26.

Coulson has also negotiated with ITPS the condition that the Mars must stay on call to the BCFS and a procedure has been worked out to remove flight crew being trained so the Mars can go to a fire if called.

We appreciate both the flexibility of ITPS and the BCFS to work out a solution to accomplish the goal of servicing both customers.