Familiar waterbomber in the skies over Port Alberni

The Hawaii Mars waterbomber made her first flight of the year on Wednesday, drawing Port Alberni people out of their homes to watch.

The Hawaii Mars takes one of several looping passes over the town of Port Alberni

The familiar rumble of the four prop engines of the Martin Mars waterbomber causes people in Port Alberni to pause, then shoot out the front door of their homes and businesses in a collective burst to watch the iconic red and white plane.

That scene has dwindled in the past three years, as the waterbombers took an extended vacation when no aerial firefighting work could be found. The Hawaii Mars took to the air last year after Coulson Flying Tankers earned a contract to train some Chinese pilots. The plane was then put into firefighting action around BC as record heat and drought caused many large wildfires.

The scene people will remember most from the summer of 2015 is the wildfire on Dog Mountain, west of Sproat Lake, burning in the background as the Hawaii Mars sat on the ground, not in the water. That scene prompted thousands of people to sign a petition imploring the provincial government to sign a firefighting contract with owner Wayne Coulson for the waterbomber.

Coulson looked to other uses for the Hawaii Mars when a contract was not forthcoming for 2016. He will take it to EAA AirVentures airshow in OshKosh, Wisconsin, at the end of July. He has also created an ultimate Martin Mars flying experience for pilots with a valid licence and $20,000 spare change.

For people in Port Alberni, seeing the waterbomber flying over town is enough — for now.

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