One of the last surviving examples of world’s largest flying boat will be preserved at a Canadian aviation museum. The British Columbia Aviation Museum near Victoria will take delivery of the massive Martin Mars after its final flight from its current base in Port Alberni about 150 miles northwest. The final flight is expected to occur this coming fall, and the plane will be the centerpiece of an aerial firefighting exhibit at the museum. The British Columbia government provided a grant of $250,000 to the museum.

A total of six Mars were built by Martin starting in 1945 and they were originally intended as troop transports. One crashed during testing and another was destroyed by fire, but the remaining “Big Four” were used extensively to supply Hawaii and other Pacific Islands until 1956. They were bought as surplus from the U.S. Navy in 1959 by a consortium of B.C. forestry companies and converted to water bombers. One crashed and another was wrecked in a storm, but for almost 40 years the remaining two, the Hawaii Mars, which will go to the museum, and Phillipine Mars were used to quench wildfires from B.C. to California. The planes dropped 7,200 gallons of water and could reload by skimming on a lake in 22 seconds. They are powered by 2,400-horsepower Wright R-3350-24WA Cyclone engines with 4-blade propellers with a 16-foot diameter.

Hawaii Mars last flew in 2016 when it was a star attraction at AirVenture. The plane suffered a punctured hull when it hit the bottom of Lake Winnebago and it had to be kept afloat with pumps until it could be patched and flown to Vancouver Island. Coulson Flying Tankers, which bought the Hawaii and Phillipine aircraft in 2007, had hoped to sell the Hawaii Mars at AirVenture but it has been looking for a buyer ever since. Meanwhile, the Phillipine Mars has been beached for more than 10 years pending a potential deal with the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola.

Russ Niles
Russ Niles is Editor-in-Chief of AVweb. He has been a pilot for 30 years and joined AVweb 22 years ago. He and his wife Marni live in southern British Columbia where they also operate a small winery.


  1. We were at AirVenture that year. They were offering tours of the Mars, and we were booked for one on the afternoon of the accident. My then-11-year-old son & I were highly disappointed that we didn’t get to see the plane up close & personal, but also glad that it didn’t turn out worse.

    I’m pleased that at least one of these birds has found a (hopefully) forever home.

  2. Glad I got to see the Mars doing water drop demos. Very impressive airplane and it’s good that it will be preserved.

  3. I was at OSH to see it as well. My Daughter was with us. It was a memorable trip. I hate to see these great aircraft destined to never fly again. I understand the desire to preserve it, but I think grounding it does the aircraft and us a huge disservice.

  4. It was kinda obsolete when it was manufactured. I cannot imagine what it costs to keep the engines and airframe airworthy (and then to actually fly it per hour). Glad that someone will keep an example of the pinnacle of piston flying in the 1940’s available for new generations to see.

  5. I had the pleasure of encountering Wayne Coulson in a business matter representing a client that had an interest in acquiring the Martin Mars several years ago. While that acquisition never materialized, I nevertheless made friends with Wayne. What a classy guy! I would have preferred to have represented Wayne instead. I have a family member that works for Lockheed Martin and once that deal to acquire the Martin Mars by my client fell through, I was hoping that LM would acquire the aircraft for their museum. I am very happy the aircraft will end up in a museum. If you have never seen this aircraft fly in person, you can at least check out You Tube to watch it land. It is breathtaking. Congratulations, Wayne.

  6. Imagine 30+ tons of water in a single pass–bet some of the firefighters wore pfd’s. The flying boat era was an interesting time tying together big chunks of the Pacific. The noise and vibration would probably shake out old fillings. Today’s travelling public would be horrified as passengers.

  7. I had the privilege of touring the interior of the Martin Mars during the 2016 Airventure before that unfortunate holing of her hull occurred. I was really impressed with how much the hull resembled a ship, the roominess of the flight deck, the vast array of instruments (everything multiplied by 4!) at the flight engineer’s station, and the height of the wing root. I also got to see the Mars perform her water drops. And, I guess it was the Mars crew who had set up one of her (spare?) radial engines on a stand for all to see. What a beautiful marriage of aviation and maritime design. Highly recommend any Youtube videos.

  8. I toured the interior of a Mars in 1954 (the plane and I were both 9 at the time) during Army/Navy day. The Mars was afloat in the seaplane lagoon at Alameda Naval Air Station – the interior had seats up and down each side for passengers with the mid area open for cargo. More Mars: a family friend who was a PanAm skipper for decades had been a 4th or 5th officer on a PAA Boeing 314 flying boat on Pacific runs, charter flights for the U.S.Navy, and later skipper on Consolidated PB2Y-3 Coronado (resembles B-24 with seaplane hull) flown by PAA for the Navy, 1942-45. He later lived in Seattle area, flew some friends by floatplane to the lake where the Mars were situated, about 1970s I think, one of those friends had been a navigator on one of the planes then at the lake – they toured the ship and the navigator found all his old equipment still in place where it had been when he was its navigator. I saw the videos of the Mars going to Oshkosh – I recommend the films.

  9. I flew with a former Fire Boss who had first hand experience using this machine on fires. The Mars was a nightmare to have on fires and actually was such a hindrance to operations. It’s turn radius was so massive they’d have to pull all aircraft currently on the fire off for safety until it could do it’s thing. You could have multiple helicopter bucket ships all dropping in strategic places on different flanks and they’d all have to pull out. Same goes for fire crews on the ground because getting accidentally caught in the drop zone would be fatal. The size of it also meant it was extremely limited to lakes it could pick out of, they had to be very long and deep. which usually meant it’s turn around time between water pick up, arrival to the fire, drop and flight back could be an hour or longer. So in between the very long time between drops the fire would just pick back up and keep going so very little ground was gained. It definitely is a marvel of engineering but it was the wrong application for it.

  10. I am delighted to read that at least one of the Mars will be destined to a museum in British Columbia, rather than being sold outside of Canada. While I would have loved for it to be in a (covered) museum in its home town, there was always going to be the question “who is going to pay for this?” This airplane is a heritage item and and truly a historic artifact. I also believe that one should be in the U.S. Navy museum, although I am puzzled as to what hampered that transaction.

    Anyhow, happy ending. It’s future will be secured and made available for all to see, rather than going to a private collector, or flown at the risk of ending up like the Hawaii Mars I, the Marianas Mars, the Marshall Mars, or the Caroline Mars.

  11. The turnaround time wasn’t always that bad. I recall reading that the Mars could do three or four drops in under 1 hour off Kamloops lake. That’s a lot of capacity.