Predator UAV Helps Fight Fires in California

 - October 4, 2013, 11:18 AM
The Ikhana UAV, NASA’s research version of the Reaper, flew over wildfires to assist firefighters. Recently, the California Air Guard flew a standard military version of the smaller Predator on the same mission. (Photo: GA-ASI)

An MQ-1 Predator UAV supported firefighters in their efforts to control the huge California Rim Fire in August-September, according to General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GA-ASI). The company noted that the UAV’s more-than-24-hour endurance offered a “value-added capability” over helicopters, which ground commanders had relied on previously but are required to refuel every two hours.

The California Air National Guard operated the Predator from Victorville airfield. The UAV’s standard EO/IR full-motion video imagery identified the location of wildfire activity, the direction of the fires, and where it was controlled, along with verifying new fires created by lightning and floating embers. It was shared with incident commanders and other fire managers on the ground in real time.

“The Predator’s life-saving capabilities aided in expanding the firefighters’ situational awareness, enabling them to fight the Rim Fire effectively and safely, while also uncovering critical safe routes for retreat,” said Frank Pace, president of GA-ASI’s Aircraft Systems Group. “The Predator enables incident commanders to view any area of a wildfire, day or night, and efficiently vector firefighting resources to protect lives and mitigate property losses,” he added.

NASA’s version of the MQ-9 Reaper, named Ikhana, has previously flown over wildfires in the western U.S. with the specialized autonomous modular scanner, data from which was also downlinked and made available to firefighters in near real time.