Via a circuitous route, I found this article on the NYT last night: Flying Behemoth May Find Its Way Home. Some background:

Glenn L. Martin was an early aviation pioneer, a contemporary (and one-time partner of) the Wright Brothers, who started out building trainers for the US Army Air Corps, and later several successful bomber designs used by the Army and the US Postal Service. Starting out in Cleveland, he bought a huge parcel of land in Middle River, Maryland, and moved the company there in 1929. The Martin company became known for its bombers, and, more visibly, its flying boats, including one version of the famous China Clipper, which flew the San Francisco to Manila route before World War Two.

During the war, they designed and built several medium bombers (the infamous B-26 and its lesser-known British-used cousin, the Baltimore) and flying boats (the PBM Mariner, and the JRM Mars), and after the war the company enjoyed fewer successes in a consolidating marketplace. After Martin’s death in 1955, the company ended production of airplanes in 1960 to focus on missiles, and after few mergers in the 60’s, the company became Lockheed Martin. Production on missiles was already happening elsewhere, and employment at the Baltimore aircraft plants was scaled back dramatically from a wartime high of 53,000.

This story circles back to a famous plane Martin built during the war, though: The JRM Mars, originally conceived in 1935 as a “battleship of the sky”, was designed with a 200′ wingspan—greater than a 747. The first model was built and flown through the early years of the war until the Navy realized that huge armed seaplanes were more of a target than an offensive weapon. However, they recognized a need for a long distance cargo carrier, and in 1944 they requested 20 Mars flying boats. The Martin company redesigned the plane for its new role and began production. After the surrender of Japan in 1945, they scaled back the order and six planes were eventually built. They were christened with exotic names: Two Hawaiis (the first was destroyed in a fire in 1945), the Caroline, the Marianas, the Phillippine, and the Marshall. The Marshall was lost off Hawaii in 1950, but the remaining Mars boats served the Navy until 1954, when they were retired and sold for scrap metal.

They were then bought by an enterprising Canadian pilot in 1959, who converted them for use as water bombers on the Pacific coast. The Marianas Mars was converted first, and had a few successful months before it was crashed by an overzealous pilot in 1960. The Caroline Mars was converted next, but unfortunately was lost in a winter storm in 1962. The remaining two boats have remained in trouble-free service in British Columbia since then.

However, the 60-year-old planes have gotten more expensive to run, and their owner has put them up for sale. Several interested parties have expressed interest, including the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, and a consortium of Baltimore businessmen and avaition historians.

Personally, I’d love it if they were able to exhibit one here in Maryland, but I’d be afraid they’d have to keep it outside in the elements where it could decay in the weather. Pensacola is too far away but much more temperate, and the scope of the museum down there ensures the plane’s future preservation. A happy middle ground: The Udvar-Hazy museum out by Dulles—there’s plenty of room there, and the Smithsonian takes good care of its planes.

More reading:
Glenn L. Martin Aircraft Company, from the Maryland Online Encyclopedia
Martin Aircraft History, The Maryland Aviation Museum
The Martin Flying Boats, Vectorsite

Date posted: January 31, 2007 | Filed under history | Comments Off on Martin Mars Flying Boat

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