Vintage aircraft collectors may have some large, interesting aircraft, but there’s nothing like the Hawaii Mars II. The largest operational flying boat in existence, which most recently fought forest fires from the air, is up for sale.
“It’s a historic piece,” says Simon Brown of Platinum Fighter Sales, which is listing the Martin JRM3 Mars. “It would be the crown jewel of any collection—but the buyer would need to have a big lake.”
Built for the US Navy in 1945 as a bomber, the Hawaii Mars II is one of only seven made—a prototype, and siblings Marianas Mars, Philippine Mars, Marshall Mars, Caroline Mars, and Hawaii Mars. Several weeks after conducting successful test flights, the first Hawaii Mars crashed into the Chesapeake Bay.
Of that baker’s half dozen, Hawaii Mars II is the only one still flying. The Mars series never made it into action before World War II ended, but the planes served as cargo and troop carriers until they were decommissioned in the ‘50s. Shortly afterwards, Forest Industries Flying Tankers started buying them up and converting them to firefighting water bombers.
There’s no account of how many missions Hawaii Mars II flew on behalf of British Columbia’s Wildfire Service, but one report indicated that between 2009 and 2015—when it flew its last mission—it discharged between 600 and 700 times. Multiply that by a few additional decades in action and a rather busy work schedule begins to come into focus. It has been maintained in flying condition.
So how big is it? The numbers are impressive. The body runs 117 feet long by 13.5 feet wide and it stands 48 feet tall on land. The wings span 200 feet and provide a total area of 3,686 feet. The propellers, all four, are almost 17 feet across, and they’re attached to 2,400-hp Wright R-3350-24WA 18-cylinder radial engines, which give it a top speed of 225 mph and 190-mph cruise speed with a 4,900-mile range. The aircraft is able to carry 7,200 gallons of water, enough to douse four acres.
“It’s unique,” says Brown, “although it’s a bit of an albatross because it’s so big.” Size relates to the price tag, too, which sits at $5 million and implies a few hundred-thousand a year in maintenance, although a wealth of available parts and qualified technicians will help keep those costs down.
Platinum has a few buyers interested—a museum and two individual collectors, Brown says. “It’s got some definite pedigree,” he adds. “Among aviation enthusiasts there’s always a desire to keep these classic planes flying, and I’m sure that will be the case with this one.”