The last Martin Mars water bomber, the world’s largest piston-powered prop plane, may have fought its last fire officials said this week. The British Columbia government has cancelled a standing contract to have the aircraft available to fight fires in the province. The airplane, which can skim a lake and pick up more than 7,000 gallons of water to help fight fires, will be replaced by “a more cost-effective, efficient option,” said Steve Thomson, forests minister for British Columbia, where the aircraft has been operating for 53 years. The Mars hasn’t been used in B.C. in two years but has fought fires in the U.S. and Mexico in that time. The province hasn’t ruled out hiring the aircraft if it needs it in the future but Wayne Coulsen, who has owned two of the aircraft since 2007, told the Alberni Valley News he’s looking for alternatives, including selling the aircraft. “We sent out e-mails…to some of the Red Bull folks and Virgin Air folks to see if there’s any interest. We may advertise it for a time to see if we get some interest,” Coulson said. Four of the aircraft were built for the U.S. Navy as transports by Martin in the 1940s.
I actually saw one of these flying over the mountains in the Coachella Valley a few years ago. It was… majestic. They’re huge planes, and moving rather slowly through the skies. I’m glad I had the chance to see a bit of aviation history.