Martin Mars water bomber to be ‘centrepiece’ in museum exhibit

Mar 28, 2024

The firefighting aircraft will feature in a new wildfire exhibit at the British Columbia Aviation Museum

When wildfires burn in B.C., there’s always the question: where is the Martin Mars water bomber? It’s an iconic piece of machinery, brought into service in the late 1950s to fight wildfires. It was last used in 2015 to help fight fires in B.C., California, Mexico and Alberta. Now, the province says it will soon become the centrepiece of a new wildfire exhibit at the British Columbia Aviation Museum in North Saanich, B.C., although there’s no firm date on when the aircraft will be ready for viewing. The Martin Mars will be flown from the Coulson Aviation Tanker Base in Port Alberni to Victoria International Airport by the end of the year. Because it can only land and take off in water, it will leave from Sproat Lake, and land in Saanich Inlet.

“The Hawaii Martin Mars water bomber is a proud symbol of B.C.͛s ingenuity and innovation, representing cutting-edge technology in aviation firefighting of its time,” Minister of Tourism, Arts, Culture and Sport Lana Popham said in a news release. Museum president Steve Nichol said this project has been years in the making.

“I am overjoyed at the prospect of not only preserving this vintage aircraft, but to be able to showcase its fascinating history as a B.C. aviation story,” he said. Nichol estimates there are about 20,000 visitors to the aviation museum each year.

‘An important piece of our province’s history’

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

Historians say the U.S. Navy produced six of the planes as prototypes for large-scale transport between the West Coast and Hawaii. But when aviation technology progressed, the planes were retired and put up for auction.

The province says the Hawaii Martin Mars water bomber served as the largest air ambulance during the Korean War, and the plane’s current owner, Coulson Avaiation, said it had the capacity to carry more than 120 soldiers plus medical crews. The province ended its contract with Coulson Aviation in 2013.

The province says it will provide $250,000 to protect and preserve the aircraft as part of the exhibit. “We recognize the value the Hawaii Martin Mars water bomber holds for many people and have heard their desire to have it housed in the British Columbia Aviation Museum, where it can be displayed and protected as an important piece of our province’s history,” Popham said.

(Source: CBC News BC, Courtney Dickson with files from Chad Pawson. Photos/Brian Lockett, András Mihalik, Video/Randy Klassen)

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