UAVs team up to demonstrate firefighting capability

By UAS Magazine Staff | January 12, 2015

Two unmanned aerial systems successfully demonstrated their complimentary abilities to fight wildfires during test flights conducted at Griffiss International Airport near Rome, New York.

An Indago quadrotor sUAS served as a scout, identifying hot spots and providing data to an operator who directed an unmanned K-MAX helicopter to autonomously extinguish the flames. In one hour, the unmanned K-MAX helicopter lifted and dropped more than 24,000 pounds of water onto the fire.

As a result of the test—conducted by Lockheed Martin and Kaman Corp.—the K-MAX UAS could, by next summer, be playing a vital role in battling wildfires that threaten lives and property.

The demonstration was requested by the Department of Interior and attended by about 100 representatives, including the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, service providers and New York state fire and police representatives.

The K-MAX flew different mission types to demonstrate its capabilities, which included delivering an ATV and dropping sequential lines of water to create a firebreak.

“We did eight different scenarios which were all guided to us by our customer on what would be appropriate for them to see to support future use of aircraft like this for firefighting,” said Dan Spoor, vice president of Aviation and Unmanned Systems at Lockheed Martin’s Mission Systems and Training Business.

Spoor noted that the K-MAX recently returned from a 33-month deployment supporting the military in Afghanistan where it flew about 2,000 missions and successfully moved 4.5 million tons of cargo.

Greg Steiner, president of the Kaman’s aerospace group, said, the K-MAX can be flown as a manned platform during the eight-hour window when firefighting operations are typically conducted during daylight. The mission could be extended two or three times longer by flying flying it as a UAV at night or during bad weather, he said.

“It can fight fires directly and also support the ground-based firefighters, resupply food, water, medical supplies and equipment,” Steiner said. “It can even perform rescue or extraction operations.”

Larry Brinker, executive director of the Northeast UAS Airspace Integration Research Alliance, said the demonstration with two different UAS was a success in the Griffiss’ mission to integrate UAS into the national airspace. The airport control tower coordinated the UAV operations at the same time it was handling civil traffic.