The primary safety concern with unmanned “drones” during fire operations is the potential conflict in active airspace. In this case the Federal Aviation Administration Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) will be modified and coordinated with Aviation Operations on the incident. The UAS operations will occur entirely within the active TFR and will avoid flying over populated or congested areas.
The goal of this research project is to evaluate real-time data products and information on fire growth, burn intensity, fuels and heat concentrations that inform decisions and tactics used by incident managers. This research will build on successes of UAS missions by further testing their sensing technology that can be integrated into wildland fire support.
The project is a partnership between the Office of Aviation Services and the Textron Company. In addition to the valuable heat-sensing information provided they will be able to assess other resource values such as risks to erosion and run-off, wildlife and vegetation impacts in inaccessible areas. This aircraft can operate during times that manned aircraft typically do not, such as during reduced visibility and darkness.
The Aerosonde aircraft is small (about 75 lbs) and very quiet. It is self-launched and landed from a portable trailer. The aircraft will be remotely piloted from a mobile command center. The UAS is quieter than manned aircraft; uses less fuel; presents less risk to employees and the public and can be flown during low visibility periods resulting in future savings of money and property.
The UAS will only be operated within the TFR area. Pilots will be issued daily Notice to Airmen (NOTAMS). Detailed coordination with Air Operations on the fire and with local partners will continue throughout the research project.
This demonstration is designed to be delivered at no cost to the government, as Textron is providing all the equipment, services and support in this unprecedented opportunity to evaluate the diverse capabilities the UAS may possess that improves the efficiency, effectiveness, and safety of current operations.
The first flight is planned for Thursday evening September 17, 2015, over public lands. The UAS will not operate over private land or designated wilderness. Infrared sensing will be conducted with controlled settings on fire perimeter and areas of intense heat. This information will be downloaded and geo-referenced for use the next morning. Future flights over the following days will include long range infrared spotting that can be conducted in areas of heavy smoke and clouds, conditions that currently limit the production of infrared data.
Public demonstrations will be planned later in the week for local communities and students to learn about this technology and its products.