Monday, August 17, 2015

The Massive Mars

On our way back from Ucluelet, I begged an indulgence from the family: let me turn off at Sproat Lake to see the mighty Martin Mars waterbomber.

They kindly agreed, and after a couple of navigational challenges, we got off the highway on Lakeshore Road, turned left on Bomber Base Road, and were soon outside the gates of Coulson Aircraft, home of two of these immense firefighting aircraft. Unfortunately, the gates were closed, and a sign on them indicated that the base was currently closed to tourists. I was crushed, but pulled into the parking lot anyhow, since one of the planes was visible from the shore. As if to underscore the point of the sign though, a uniformed security guard was making his way from the main building to the gate.

I got out to greet him. "I saw the sign saying you're closed, but hoped I could take some photos from the road; would that be okay?"

"You can come in and take them from closer if you like," he replied amiably.

Wasting no time, Glory, Audrey and I (Fenya stayed behind to nurse a headache) were soon following the friendly guard around the corner of the main building so we could better view the Hawaii Mars in its red and white colour scheme as it floated about 50 yards off shore. I asked if it had been a busy summer, what with all the wildfires, and he grinned. "Not as busy as they'd like, I think, but she's been up a few times now. Put out a fire near my home town of Nelson, as a matter of fact." (It since has been revealed that they need to train up another pilot.)

He was clearly a fan, reeling off factoids about the aircraft as we walked to a better vantage point. "2500 horsepower on each engine and she's got four of them...more wing coverage than a 747...they were originally built in 1945 as a bomber, but were too slow to avoid anti aircraft fire, so they repurposed them as naval transport aircraft." He gestured towards the Phillipine Mars in its dark blue livery up on dry land for servicing. "That's why this one has the U.S. Navy colouring; they're tuning her up for a trip to Pensacola, Florida where she will go to a museum"
Pointing to an unused nose cone, there was a measure of pride as he told us how the Mars was built to last, with 30,000 rivets used in their construction. "NASA just tested them both for airworthiness in the States, and they passed with high honours."

In her new role as a water bomber, the Mars can land, fill up, and take off again in only 5 miles of lake, carrying over 2000 22,000 litres of foam concentrate or an astonishing 27,000 litres of water that it can douse over 6 acres of target area.

Aviation buffs from all over the world drop in to Sproat lake to see the 'Mighty Mars'; so many so that when the base is not on alert, there is even a gift shop with a couple of different books on this fascinating plane. This friendly guard appreciates this, and has gotten permission to let visitors like them and myself onto the base in order to help preserve this piece of aviation history. I was certain to let him know how grateful I was for the privilege, and shook his hand as we left.

If I make it back this way, I will probably swing by yet again, in hopes of seeing it fly and of hearing those ten thousand horses pulling the massive Martin Mars into the sky.

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