Last Flying Martin Mars Finds Retirement Home

Thanks in part to a grant of $250,000 from the British Columbia provincial government, the last Martin Mars flying boat to see commercial service will be transferred from current owners The Coulson Group to the B.C. Aviation Museum later this year. The Hawaii Mars will be made airworthy again over the next few months and, after obtaining a ferry permit, the aircraft will be flown from its current location on Sproat Lake near Port Alberni on Vancouver Island to its new home at the museum on the grounds of Victoria International Airport in North Saanich.

“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,” museum president Steve Nichol said. The Hawaii Mars will serve as the centrepiece of an exhibit dedicated to B.C. firefighting aircraft.

Only six of the massive flying boats, originally named Martin JRM Mars, were built by the Glenn L. Martin Company near the end of the Second World War. The U.S. Navy had ordered 20 for use as transport aircraft. The first Mars to come off the production line was named the Hawaii Mars. Unfortunately, it was destroyed after crashing into Chesapeake Bay just weeks after its first flight.

When the war ended, the U.S. Navy scaled back the order to the five that remained on the production line, including one that again bore the name of Hawaii Mars. Of these, the Marshall Mars was lost in 1950 near Hawaii after the engine caught fire. The four remaining were put up for sale as ‘scrap’ in 1959. However, a consortium of B.C. forestry companies purchased the four and had them converted to water bombers. The Marianas Mars crashed in 1961 while battling a fire on Vancouver Island with the loss of four crew members. 1962’s Typhoon Freda damaged the Carolina Mars beyond repair. In 2007, the Hawaii Mars and its last remaining sister ship, the Philippine Mars, were sold to Coulson Forestry Products of Port Alberni.

As more modern and efficient water bombers became available, the Martin Mars were made redundant. The last firefighting contract for the Hawaii Mars was for one month in 2015. The Philippine Mars was at one time destined to a U.S. Navy museum in Florida, but the project was not realized and the aircraft, whose last flight was in 2007, remains at the Coulson’s Sproat Lake base and is no longer considered airworthy. It was painted in U.S. Navy colours in anticipation of its transfer.

NB: Click here to purchase The Mighty Martin Mars, co-written by Wayne Coulson.

See this week’s video, featuring the Martin Mars.