About this time 10 years ago the Martin Mars, the 747, and two MAFFS air tankers assisted firefighters in Mexico.
One of the DC-10 air tankers, T-912, has started a contract with the state of Coahuila to assist firefighters battling a fire 20 miles southwest of Monterrey in Mexico. Today was its first day of operations but when we spoke to John Gould, President of 10 Tanker at 2:45 p.m. CDT today March 28, the aircraft was on the ground waiting for an improvement in the weather.
They are working and reloading out of the airport in Laredo, Texas about 160 miles northeast of the fire.
The fire they will be dropping retardant on initially is just west of the Coahuila/Nuevo León state line. According to heat detected by satellites it appears to be several thousand acres, while a fire about 4 miles to the east in Nuevo León looks to be more than 22,000 acres. Both fires are near Highway 20.
“Beautiful country there,” Mr. Gould told Fire Aviation. “Very steep and challenging country for fighting fire. The state of Coahuila is providing the aerial supervision aircraft and we have put one of our pilots with lead plane and Air Tactical Group Supervisor experience in the right seat.”
Coulson Flying Tankers is offering a $5,000 reward for information about the vandalizing of one of its waterbombers moored at Sproat Lake in Port Alberni, on Vancouver Island in British Columbia.
CEO Wayne Coulson told The Province that the weekend damage might have had catastrophic results because of the danger posed to the two pilots and two flight engineers who operate the “Hawaii Mars.” There was a hole found in the fabric of the vertical stabilizer of the plane after someone apparently climbed aboard from the water on Saturday night.
The plane was ordered Sunday on a fire on Bowen Island, then turned around by dispatch, so the crew then flew to Lake Cowichan, southeast of their home base, for a training run. They encountered troubles with stability, according to Coulson, and flew back to Sproat Lake, where they discovered a huge hole in the vertical stabilizer.
He said the vandalism occurred late Saturday when someone took a boat to where the Mars was docked. Neighbors reported noise, but the partyers were gone by the time police arrived. The incident’s under investigation by Port Alberni Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and Coulson estimates the damage at about $25,000. The company is adding security guards to their facility.
On Wednesday, May 18, the Martin Mars air tanker completed their 20-day contract in Mexico and will be heading back to their home at Sproat Lake near Port Alberni on Vancouver Island. They expect to stop at Lake Elsinore, California for fuel, and to arrive at Port Alberni on Friday. At this link to Google Maps from July, 2005 imagery, you will see the two Martin Mars aircraft floating peacefully in the lake. The giant plane has been working on a firefighting contract with the Mexican government, based at Lake Amistad reservoir near Del Rio, Texas.
Wayne Coulson, the CEO of Coulson Flying Tankers, the owner of the Hawaii Mars and the Philippine Mars, told Wildfire Today that after sitting for a day due to strong winds, the Hawaii Mars on April 30 began flying an average of 6.5 hours a day with up to 10 loads each day until May 15 when they ran out of targets. They flew 104 hours of operations on the assignment dropping exclusively water with 1.5% Thermo-Gel, with excellent results, Coulson said.
The Martin Mars is the only fixed wing platform in the world that has an onboard gel injection system. It can hold 3,100 liters (819 gallons) of gel which gives the Mars the ability to drop approximately 20 loads of water with gel before reloading the gel tank. The aircraft can carry up to 7,200 gallons of water.
Coulson described the gel injection system to us. When scooping on a lake to reload the water tank, the Martin Mars:
..ingests the water into the tank at 200 gallons per second and injects gel at the elbow in the tank causing extreme shearing of the gel that cannot be duplicated by any other gel injection system giving us the ultimate mixing of product.
I did the math for those of us that are familiar with water pumping operations, and 200 gallons per second works out to 12,000 gallons per minute. That amount of water could fill 24 large fire engines each minute.
Coulson described one of the ways they used the Sikorsky S-76 helicopter, called Firewatch, which has mapping and infrared imaging capability, and works with the Martin Mars serving as a lead plane, as well as other functions.
The S-76 was the key to our success going into another country that doesn’t speak English.
Firewatch has two screens with a HD 14″ [TV monitor] in the front and a HD 26″ [TV monitor] in the back so what we were able to do is communicate with the customer using the video images.
We worked on 8 different fire complex’s and what we would do when the Mars was ordered up we would pickup the IC and usually two other members and fly the targets using the camera to identify where the loads were to be dropped then call in the Mars and execute.
Our primary missions were specialty targets protecting ranches and livestock so every drop counted and the results good or bad were instant using the camera.
The Martin Mars has sophisticated hardware and software that keeps track of many different parameters while flying a mission. It can instantly provide the actual costs of the drops after the crew inputs the contract daily and hourly rates and the cost per gallon of the fuel and gel. For example, during a 25-day period in 2009 in California it worked on 6 fires, flew 36.33 hours on the fires, made 40 drops (of water and gel), dropped 193,758 gallons, for a total cost of $3.52 per gallon dropped, including the cost of the gel, fuel, and contract charges. That works out to 0.9 hour per drop, with each drop averaging 4,843 gallons.
In June the Martin Mars will begin a 90-day contract working for the province of British Columbia.
The Alberni Valley Times published an article about the aircraft May 19, 2011.
Martin Mars to be featured on the Discovery Channel
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.
The Martin Mars air tanker will be joining the 747 air tanker in Mexico to help suppress the wildfires that are burning 30 to 40 miles south of the Texas border. According to an article in the Vancouver Sun, the government of Mexico has signed a 20-day contract with Coulson Flying Tankers. The aircraft was scheduled to depart from their Port Alberni, Canada base on Friday to begin the contract on Sunday, April 24.
The huge air tanker will be based at Lake Amistad reservoir near Del Rio, Texas. The lake straddles the U.S./Mexico border, and the aircraft will be moored on the U.S. side. It will scoop up to 7,200 gallons of water from the lake and then fly across the border 30 to 40 miles to the fires, returning to the lake each time it needs to refill. A conventional large air tanker can hold 2,000 to 3,000 gallons, while the DC-10 can carry 11,600 and the 747 has a 20,000-gallon tank.
There were only seven of these “flying boats” built, between 1945 and 1948. The U.S. Navy retired them in 1956 and then sold them to private companies. Four of them were converted to air tankers, or “water bombers” as they are called in Canada. One crashed on a fire in British Columbia 1961, killing the the four crewmembers, and another was destroyed by Typhoon Freda while the aircraft was parked onshore in 1962. The other two, the Hawaii Mars and Philippine Mars, entered the firefighting service in 1963 and are still flying today for Coulson Flying Tankers.
The Martin Mars has a modern firefighting system. In addition to the 7,200-gallon water capacity, it also carries 600 US gallons of foam concentrate which can be mixed with the water to enhance the fire suppression properties of the water. This is enough for 21 drops of a 0.4% solution. It also carries Thermo-Gel which can be mixed into the water, creating a gel which coats vegetation and structures providing more cooling and protection than plain water.
The U.S. Forest Service contracted with the Martin Mars for two to three months in 2009, basing it at Lake Elsinore in southern California. It worked on the Station fire and many others that year, but was not under contract in the U.S. in 2010.
The operation of the Martin Mars is somewhat unusual for air tankers, in that the ship comes with a helicopter, a Sikorsky S-76B. The helicopter has several roles, primarily serving as a lead plane and checking to make sure the water-scooping locations are free of boaters and other obstacles. Called Firewatch 76, it has infrared imaging capabilities and can also stream live video to the internet using 3G cell phone networks.
Below is a map of the fires in Texas. It also shows the fires across the border in Mexico that the Martin Mars and the 747 supertanker are or will be working on.
The 7,200-gallon Martin Mars air tanker is on contract for the province of British Columbia this summer. The U.S. Forest Service contracted for the huge aircraft for the last two years, having it based at Lake Elsinore in southern California in the late summers of 2008 and 2009, but as far as we know, they have declined to sign it up this year. The B.C. contract is from June 1 through August 31 and guarantees 45 days of work for the aircraft.