The Martin Mars air tanker that began a 20-day contract on April 24 to assist the Mexican government with suppression of their wildfires has been busy recently after being grounded for a while by strong winds.
Here is an excerpt from an article at Canada.com, dated May 6, 2011:
…The aircraft and its accompanying Sikorsky helicopter started making drops last Friday, said Wayne Coulson, who owns both aircraft through the Coulson Group of Companies.
The aircraft has been working seven hours a day, dropping up to 10 loads of water, said Coulson. On Monday, the Mars dumped 210,000 litres of water and gel.
“We’re flying her more than we ever have,” said Coulson from his Port Alberni office this week.
The expanse of the wildfires is overwhelming, he added. “A big chunk of the country is on fire – it’s right down to Cancun,” Coulson said. The enemy is the weather. Temperatures have soared to 46 C and then dipped to 10 C, perfect conditions for thunderstorms.
“The lighting strikes are just relentless,” Coulson said.
The helicopter uses infrared cameras to see through smoke and pinpoint the location of the flames. It has been a valuable asset for the Mexicans, said Coulson. They have used the helicopter to map fires and set their priorities on what order they should be attacked. The success of the technological improvements is gratifying.
“We’ve waited almost three years to be able to prove we can go and utilize this technology,” he said. “They really watch their pesos, and for every aircraft that’s working, [the fire bosses] are filming and making determinations.”
Having an aircraft drop water in the middle of a fire does not do any good because the flames are moving out along the edges, he said. A YouTube video of the Martin Mars shows it making its drop along the leading edge of the fire, creating a fire break with surrounding land.
Every drop of water and gel has to be accurate and cost-effective for the customer, said Coulson. A single drop by the Martin Mars can cost the customer $15,000.
A normal day begins with the Sikorsky flying from Texas into Mexico to clear customs and obtain one-day permit to be in the country and pick up Mexican bosses. At the end of the day, the helicopter hands in its permit to Mexican officials and returns to Texas where it again clears customs.
Check out the video below, uploaded to YouTube on June 24, 2010. It includes several practice drops, some of which were filmed by the infrared camera on the helicopter the airtanker uses as a lead plane, a Sikorsky S-76B.
More information about the Martin Mars is in our article from April 23, 2011.