Martin Mars Makes Massive Impression On The Masses At EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2016

Published in Midwest Flyer – Oct/Nov 2016

The military demonstration teams usually command the most attention at airshows, and rightfully so. To take a group of jet fighters and perform precision formation aerobatics is simply amazing! But there have been a few civilian acts that have rivaled the teams, like the late airshow performer Jimmy Franklin and his jet-powered Waco. Jimmy’s act had uniqueness, unbelievable maneuverability, and the sounds of both a vintage biplane and jet fighter. He was definitely one of the great all-time performers in the history of the airshow entertainment industry, and his acts caught the attention of millions of spectators for decades.

This year the 64th annual Experimental Aircraft Association fly-in convention in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, July 25-31, 2016, featured the Canadian Snowbirds, numerous and impressive modern military jet fighters, and an outstanding warbird display. But it was the gigantic “Martin Mars” water bomber that captured the attention of spectators the most for its uniqueness and massive appearance.

The Martin Mars is the largest flying boat ever flown operationally, with a height of 38 feet, a length of 120 feet, and a wingspan of 200 feet (approximately the wingspan of a Boeing 747). Only six of the massive aircraft were built, with Coulson Flying Tankers of Port Alberni, British Columbia, owning the two remaining examples since 2007. Coulson has put the aircraft to work as a water bomber fighting forest fires throughout the western United States, Canada, and Mexico.

“Among flying boats, only the legendary Spruce Goose is bigger, but the Martin Mars is the largest ever to be operational on a regular basis,” said Rick Larsen, EAA’s vice president of communities and member programs who coordinates features and attractions at AirVenture.

The Martin Mars first flew in 1942 and was originally built as a long-range U.S. Navy troop and freight transport to fly between the continental U.S. and Hawaii. The conversion to water bombers gave the aircraft the ability to carry as much as 7200 gallons of water, enough to cover 4 acres of land in a single pass. When picking up water, the Martin Mars can ingest more than a ton of water per second as it skims across a waterway.

“This is the last flying Mars in the world and the largest warbird ever built,” said Wayne Coulson, chief executive officer for Coulson Flying Tankers, who recognized the importance of AirVenture as a great venue to showcase the aircraft.

This was the Martin Mars’ first trip to Oshkosh, and because the aircraft is a true flying boat, it could not land at Wittman Regional Airport. Instead, it landed at nearby Lake Winnebago and parked near the EAA Seaplane Base. Visitors could go to the lake in hopes of witnessing its operations there, and see it moored in the bay, and watch it perform water-bombing demonstrations during the daily airshow at Wittman Field.

What aircraft can attract more attention than that? Let’s see what EAA comes up with next year.

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