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Coulson Aviation recently purchased four Cessna Citation II C550 jets that it will convert into aerial firefighting intelligence aircraft. Previously operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the fast, light corporate jets flew for the past 40 years tracking, detecting and intercepting illegal air smugglers attempting to cross the U.S. border.
These specific C550s were originally modified and equipped with military “fire-control” radar, sophisticated infrared cameras, custom instrument panels and law enforcement communication packages.
Foster Coulson of Coulson Aviation said, “A brand new technology package will be installed before [the aircraft] go to work.” The aircraft will receive upgrades to their cameras and mission systems, as well as new liveries. Coulson has not released any additional specific technological modifications or upgrades it is making to the aircraft.
In a Coulson Aviation media release from Aug. 14, the company said: “Since 2009 we have pioneered various intelligence programs focused on creating additional accountability and value for government agencies. With our total integrated approach, we are able to provide our customers with a safe, world-class program, 24 hours a day.”
Two C550s are awaiting upgrades now at the Coulson Port Alberni, B.C., base, while another is presently being repainted elsewhere in the Coulson crimson and white livery. The fourth jet is awaiting delivery.
Two of the C550 jets have been purchased by the New South Wales (NSW) Rural Fire Service in Australia and will make the long journey once the upgrades by Coulson are complete.
Coulson’s Port Alberni facility is also busy converting another one of its 737-300s into the B737 FireLiner. Purchasing six Boeing 737-300s from Southwest Airlines back in 2017, Coulson’s B737 FireLiner is now operational and has fought fires in Australia and the U.S. with great success. The company’s latest 737, serial number N619SW, will undergo 43,000-man hours to complete the conversion to a FireLiner — consisting of the gravity retardant aerial delivery system (RADS-XXL/2) tank, avionics upgrades, new interior with refurbished passenger seats and new paint in Coulson colours. The FireLiner conversion is scheduled to be completed in May 2021 in time for the next fire season in North America.
This will be the third converted 737 for Coulson; the first two are identified as T-137 and T-138. T-137 was purchased in May 2019 by the NSW Rural Fire Service along with the two Coulson Citation II C550 support jets.
The B737 FireLiner is capable of dropping 4,000 gallons (15,141 litres) of water or retardant while flying at maximum altitude and with no speed restrictions. It’s also the only large airtanker capable of carrying 63 firefighters to a fire without the need to reconfigure the cabin — providing support, speed and flexibility to fires.
The legendary Martin Mars water bombers owned by Coulson Aviation may take to the sky again. Although the aircraft’s days as an operational water bomber have passed, Coulson’s Hawaii Mars aircraft might take to the air again to provide aerial sightseeing tours and could also hit the airshow circuit one day in the future.
During a visit by Skies to the water bomber base at Sproat Lake, B.C., two of the four Hawaii Mars engines were receiving maintenance. The second Mars aircraft, Philippine Mars, was repainted in 2015 back to its original dark blue U.S. Navy livery; the plan at that time was for it to fly to its final resting place and be preserved at the U.S. Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Fla. Those plans fell through, but the plane may still find its way to a museum. No definite plans have been reached to date.