Owner looking for new home for Martin Mars water bomber

 

The owner of the Port Alberni-based Martin Mars said he’s taking the water bomber to an air show this summer in hopes of finding it a new home.

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Neither the B.C. nor Alberta governments have requested support from the retired air tanker, said Wayne Coulson, chief executive of the Coulson Group of Companies.

“Based on the fact no government has any interest whatsoever in the aircraft fighting fire, we have decided to take the Mars to the Oshkosh Air Show in Wisconsin in late July in hopes of finding another business or home for it, keeping it somewhat operational,” Coulson said in an email.

The Martin Mars was retired from firefighting service in 2013, but was brought back last summer for the forest-fire season on a $600,000 contract.

Coulson said it can’t be used to fight fires without government support.

“In the firefighting business, it is the government that has operational control of the aircraft. No aircraft operator in the world can simply go and put out a fire, even if they wanted to. And if someone ever did, they would be facing serious criminal charges,” Coulson said.

The Alberta government said it appreciated the offer of assistance from the Coulson Group, but that because the Martin Mars can only draw water from a large lake, it is not appropriate for fighting the Fort McMurray wildfires.

“Martin Mars has provided assistance in the past when it was possible to draw water from Gregoire Lake, which is not possible now. Every resource is being used to fight this fire. There are limits to the number of aircraft that can be used to support firefighting efforts on a specific fire to ensure the safety of pilots,” a statement from the office of the premier of Alberta said.

“We will continue to monitor and assess the situation and will request additional air resources as required.”

The Martin Mars is the largest piston-powered, propeller-driven water bomber, with a tank capacity of 27,250 litres. Its average drop volume is 19,000 litres, according to the B.C. government.

The B.C. government began contracting four smaller Air Tractor AT-802F “Fire Boss” air tankers in 2014 from Abbotsford-based Conair Aerial Firefighting.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Forests said more modern aircraft are better suited and more cost-effective.

The Fire Bosses skim up to 3,025 of water from more than 1,700 water bodies in B.C. The Martin Mars can source from about 113 lakes in B.C.

The province’s contracted fleet for the 2016 fire season also includes one Type-4 light duty helicopter, five Type-2 medium-duty helicopters, eight bird dog aircrafts (used for co-ordinating aerial wildfire response), 17 air tankers including the Fire Bosses and two parattack jumpships.

asmart@timescolonist.com

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