Airfield Guide
Port Alberni - Sproat Lake Tanker Base
ICAO Code: /CBT9Info Last Validated:oct13
City:Port Alberni, B.C.Position:49°17'24"N 124°56'42"W
Runway(s):(water, helispot)Elevation:103 ft

This small airtanker base on Vancouver Island was home to the world's largest operational flying boats, the huge piston-powered Martin Mars. Unfortunately, the operation has been shut down at the end of August 2013, mainly due to lack of funds. Below description is therefore not valid anymore.

During the fire season the pair will be ready in the lake for action when called upon. Usually, it takes a lot of luck or perserverance to see them in action. Outside the season the Mars receive maintanance on the shore. By the end of 2006, TimberWest (the company owning Mars operator 'Flying Tankers') announced they were for sale. To the relief of many, the buyer was found in Coulson Aircrane, based at Port Alberni. For the time, the Mars are saved and remain operational from Sproat Lake.


Shown on the map is the northern fork of vast Sproat Lake and the base lies on its northern shore, surrounded by forest and a few homes. A dead-end road leads to the hangar and office with the maintenance and launch ramp behind them. There is also a helispot (code CBT9) and a pier for the boats.

Getting There

To drive here, take the Pacific Rim Highway (road number 4) that starts at Parksville, north of Nanaimo. The base lies just past the entrance to Sproat Lake Provincial Park, some 11km from Port Alberni. The very scenic drive takes about one hour from Parksville.

Around The Airport
Tanker Base

During hours of operation, access to the base is usually kindly granted. You will be free to move around to admire the Mars and other present aircraft, and look for the best photo angles. Bear in mind however this is an operational facility and (re)act accordingly.

When the pair is in the water the only way to take take a close look is by boat or floatplane, and people will be seen doing so nearly every day. The base workers will ready the Mars every morning and close up at night. When the base is closed the shore can be reached via a narrow track along the fence and you can see the giants in the water. To photograph them from the shore, some 250mm effective is required to have one Martin Mars fill your viewfinder.

Provincial Park

Follow the signs to the Sproat Lake Park Lower Campground and then keep right towards the shore. From the parking and small boat ramp the Mars will be visible when in the lake. Photos are possible but no less than 400mm effective is needed to frame a big flying boat from here. The wind will determine from what angle you see the Mars as they float around their buoy.

Opposite shore

Not a place for a close look as the distance is twice that of spot 2. Nevertheless, from several places along Faber Road the Mars are visible in the distance and really stand out in their red and white colours against the dark green background. An impressive sight to see if you have time.

'Hawaii Mars' at her mooring point at the tanker base, seen from the base ramp, spot 1. (Aad van der Voet)
'Philippine Mars' ready to be slowly let down into the lake after seasonal maintenance. Photo shot from the base boat pier by Erik Sleutelberg.
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