* In the late 1950s, the Canadian Pacific-coast province of British Columbia was badly hit by a series of forest fires, and in 1958 the lumber companies met to discuss what to do in response. One of the recommendations was to make greater use of "water bombers" -- aircraft converted to dump water on fires.

Unfortunately, existing aircraft types used as water bombers, such as Beavers, Otters, Avengers and so on, couldn't carry enough water to really dowse a fire. A water-bomber pilot named Dan McIvor suggested that using surplus flying boats would give the fire-fighters the clout they needed. However, big flying boats were a thing of the past and most of them had been scrapped.

In the spring of 1959, McIvor learned that the US Navy intended to sell its huge Mars flying boats for scrap. McIvor knew that the Mars would be the best water bomber of all the aircraft he had considered, and called the Navy immediately. The bids had been closed, but the Navy gave McIvor the name of the winning bidder. McIvor called them and arranged to buy the four aircraft for a slight markup over their bid, paying the remarkably cheap sum of $100,000 US for all four. McIvor was apparently quite an energetic guy, as he then managed not only to acquire spare engines and the entire Navy parts stock and documentation archive for the archive for a small sum.

The four JRMs were flown to British Columbia during August and September 1959. The Caroline Mars was pressed into service for training, while the Marianas Mars was being converted into a water bomber by Fairey Aviation. All extraneous gear was stripped out, a single 22,700 liter (6,000 US gallon) fiberglassed-plywood tank was installed, and two retractable scoops were built into the hull. New radio equipment and a spiffy red-and-white paint scheme completed the upgrade.

The Marianas Mars began its service in spring 1960. Unfortunately, McIvor ended up being grounded because of his eyesight, and his replacements weren't nearly as capable. On 23 June 1960, a pilot named Richman failed to heed the recommendations of an observer on a spotter aircraft and cartwheeled the Marianas Mars through the treetops, killing himself and the other three crewmen.

As a result, the conversion of the Caroline Mars to a water bomber was accelerated. In 1962 McIvor, who had got his license back on appeal, demonstrated the wisdom of his selection of the Mars flying boats by putting out a serious fire with the Caroline Mars before ground crews even managed to get to the scene. Unfortunately, the Caroline Mars was completely wrecked by a storm that winter.

That left the Philippine Mars and the Hawaii Mars. Fairey Aviation immediately proceeded to convert them to water bombers as they had the other two aircraft. They also added a new secondary tank to contain "Gelgard", a thickening agent that was added to the water to make it viscous and not run off so quickly. The two water bombers went into service during the fire season in 1963, and at last notice remain in service, operating off Sproat Lake in British Columbia.      From: Vectors

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