Sunday, July 12, 2009


I've been doing a lot of driving this week. We had the drive home from Nebraska during the first part of the week and this weekend, we drove down South into Riverside County. While coming home from the Temecula area, I see this huge airplane flying low over Lake Elsinore.

I have been an aviation buff all of my life. I recognize it as a type of flying boat that has been modified for firefighting use. When it flies behind a hill and doesn't come back into view, I know that it has landed on the lake.

Although I know this is going to add to an already long drive, I exit the freeway and try to get a closer look. We work our way to the North end of the lake and we find the aircraft moored to a buoy, as well as various support equipment.

Whatever they are up to, they are here to stay. I grab my camera and mosey on down to the shore.There were quite a few locals as well as representatives from the print and broadcast media. Along with the airplane, a Sikorsky S-76 helicopter is parked on it's own pad nearby.

I was able to speak with one of the ground support people and obtained a little information.
This is a Martin Mars flying boat. There were five of these that were delivered to the U.S. Navy toward the end of the second world war. There are two left, and they are owned by Coulson Air Tankers, which is based in Port Alberni, British Columbia.

This aircraft, The Hawaii Mars, is contracted to the U.S. Forest Service for this fire season and will be based at Lake Elsinore until December 10th. It's biggest asset is it's large water capacity and it's ability to load water without completely landing. It holds up to 7200 gallons of a water and gel mixture.

The Forest Service will use the Mars Hawaii to augment existing aerial firefighting forces in California. The helicopter is used to support the Mars as it attacks the fire.

The Mars arrived in Lake Elsinore this afternoon after a 7.5 hour flight from British Columbia. The support equipment had been there for several days, waiting for the Mars.

It is a very large airplane. It's wingspan is 5 feet longer than a 747. Most of the photos do not adequately portray it's size.

Each of the four engines produces 2500 horsepower. I wish I could have heard them running up close.

The aircraft's arrival and landing generated quite a bit of local interest.

An operation such as this requires a lot of technical and logistical support. Apparently Lake Elsinore is a recreational lake and does not normally support seaplane operations. As a result, Coulson brought what they needed with them.

This boat is used for maintenance. The platform allows maintenance personnel to reach areas a little higher on the Mars.

A large semi-trailer stores equipment and spares. It reminds me of the transporters that auto racing teams use.

A Prevost Motor Coach allows at least some personnel to stay on site.

A crane does the heavy lifting.

This trailer contains the gel that is mixed with the water on board the aircraft. It is pumped on board before the aircraft departs.

Two tankers are on site. The larger one contains aviation gasoline for the Mars. It contains enough fuel to last the Mars for about a day and a half during steady operations.

A smaller tank trailer contains fuel for the turbine powered helicopter. They are parked on opposite ends of the site. You definitely wouldn't want to get them mixed up. Kind of like putting diesel in the chief's buggy.

As the Mars does not have landing gear, it stays on the water unless heavy maintenance is required. A boat is required to access the plane. Forgetting your sunglasses must be a pain.

This is a beautiful airplane and it is a piece of history. I wish these folks well. Maybe they will work their way up to my area and I will get to see them in action. Time will tell.


  1. Thank goodness you are an aviation buff, we may never have seen all the support equipment that travels with a tanker of this high specialty.

    Excellent. This will be linked all over the interwebs for sure!

  2. THAT is so cool!

    Really like your blog by the way! ;)

  3. Very cool pictures of an amazing airplane. Thanks for sharing.

  4. What a beautiful plane. Thanks for the pics.

  5. From the first picture, I was thinking how cute and small this red plane was! Bam was I wrong!! Loved all the details you supplied! Ditto HappyMedic's comment!

  6. I always enjoy your blog, but as a private pilot this entry was extra cool...

    Keep it up!

  7. Awesome shots there Capt. I'd love to see that beast in action someday!


  8. You can tell they're pros: first item off the truck is a propane grill.

  9. Great pictures Joe - thanks.

    Can I say that operation looks mighty expensive.