Martin Mars finishes fire contract in Mexico, next stop Discovery Channel

Martin Mars and Firewatch 76 at Lake Elsinore, California
File photo of the Martin Mars and Firewatch 76 at Lake Elsinore, California. Photo: Coulson Flying Tankers

Updated at 1:12 p.m. MT, May 19, 2011

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

Continue reading “Martin Mars finishes fire contract in Mexico, next stop Discovery Channel”

Martin Mars air tanker is busy in Mexico

Martin Mars air tanker taking off
Martin Mars air tanker taking off; a screen grab from the video below.

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, 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.

Martin Mars air tanker practice drop
Martin Mars air tanker practice drop; screen grab from the video below.

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.


Thanks Barb