Water bomber back from job in Mexico

By Sandra McCulloch, timescolonist.com May 23, 2011

Most trips to Mexico are relaxing vacations, but the Martin Mars water bomber has just returned from a 20-day contract that saw it working harder than it ever has in its 66-year lifetime.

The world’s largest water bomber arrived back home at its base on Sproat Lake near Port Alberni last week, said Wayne Coulson, who owns the water bomber through his Coulson Group of Companies.

“It was really good for us,” Coulson said of the Mexican assignment.

Coulson hired a scientific research firm to draw up an independent analysis of the performance of both the Mars and its accompanying Sikorsky helicopter, which is equipped with infrared camera and other high-tech gadgets.

“This is the most intense scrutiny the Mars has been under in its history,” said Coulson.

“We did in excess of 70 drops. We had a camera on the ground and firefighters on the ground.”

The crews benefited from the repeated drops and subsequent assessments, Coulson said.

Coulson is focused on fine-tuning the plane’s performance to improve its desirability in the firefighting marketplace.

The Mexican fire bosses were able to take an active part directing the water bomber because they rode in the accompanying Sikorsky helicopter and had access to the various technologies.

“The incident commander would fly the areas of concern in the [helicopter] and they would determine where the best spot was to go,” Coulson said.

“We would confirm with the [helicopter] pilot that it was a safe run for the Mars, and we would go and film the drop of the Mars in thermal image.”

The plane worked on eight different complexes, or groups of fires, in northern Mexico.

The priority was to protect structures, ranches and areas important to people’s livelihoods.

“We were working with firefighters on the ground. They would be working fire lines and where the fire jumped the lines, the Mars would hit it,” Coulson said.

Coulson said his managers have spoken to managers now fighting Alberta wildfires.

“They know we’re here now,” he said.

smcculloch@timescolonist.com

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