Pictures: Possible eclipse of Mars as Flying Tankers sells off remaining two airworthy JRM-3 firefighters

Los Angeles
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Flying Tankers, the water bomber arm of Canadian-based forest company TimberWest is expected to shortlist this week the top bids for its two giant Martin Mars JRM-3 flying boats.

The two aircraft, Hawai'i Mars and Philippine Mars (pictured below), have been operated from their Sproat Lake base on Vancouver Island, British Columbia on fire fighting operations since being converted into water bombers in 1963. However, citing high operational costs, the two aircraft were offered for sale in November 2006 and are widely expected to be sold into preservation despite having up to 10 years' worth of remaining useful life.

© Robbie Shaw 

Originally ex-US Navy, the bombers are capable of delivering 27,250litres (7,200 USGal) of water on every drop, and can top up by skimming the surface of lakes. The aircraft are also equipped to carry up to 2,270L of foam concentrate which can be diluted over several drops. With each drop the 61m (201ft) span aircraft covers an area of around 1.6Ha (4 acres).

The main reasons for the rising operational costs of the Mars include its four-person crew, maintenance costs of its Wright R-3350-24WA Cyclone pistons and higher fuel prices. It is reported the British Columbia Aviation Council wants to keep one water bomber in Port Alberni, by Sproat Lake. The council’s bid partner, the Glenn L Martin Maryland Aviation Museum of Middle River, Maryland has mounted a campaign to take the other Mars aircraft back to its place of origin in the USA.