There is no question that Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) could provide wildland firefighters with valuable real time intelligence. The biggest hurdle that has to be overcome is how to safely integrate them into the airspace above a fire. For incidents with a Temporary Flight Restriction could they be assigned an altitude above all other firefighting aircraft, or should they be restricted to night operations when no other aircraft are working on the fire?
Firefighters in Western Australia have started to use an Indago UAS built by Lockheed Martin. Today the company released information about how it is being utilized.
Western Australia’s Emergency Services Commissioner called upon Lockheed Martin’s Indago quad copterto assist with efforts to contain and extinguish a fire that had the potential to threaten lives and property.
In its first real-world firefighting tasking, the aircraft flew over the live fire and provided real-time intelligence to the Planning and Incident Management team. The Indago was able to provide information on the location of the fire edge, the intensity and location of hotspots, as well as identify people and assets at risk through smoke. The Indago also assessed damage and transmitted real-time images of activities occurring on the ground.
“After Indago’s insertion into our firefighting operations, an estimated 100 homes were saved,” said Wayne Gregson, Fire and Emergency Services Commissioner. “The Indago provided a critical capability while the manned aircraft were grounded at nightfall, and increased our ground operators’ situational awareness.”
For more than 80 years, manned aircraft have been employed in support of ground firefighting operations; currently, aircraft support is available to ground firefighters in Australia for approximately 12-14 hours per day during daylight hours only.
“The Indago can work to fight fires and provide information to operations day and night without risking a life,” said Dan Spoor, vice president of Aviation and Unmanned Systems at Lockheed Martin’s Mission Systems and Training business. “This real world application signifies the potential for using unmanned systems to augment manned firefighting operations, doubling the amount of time for fire suppression.”
The Indago’s industry-leading flight time and EO/IR gimbaled imager provides high quality data and enhanced situational awareness for operators to make real-time decisions. Indago is capable of providing tactical situational awareness and geo-location, increasing its value in missions such as firefighting.
“The Indago has shown its ability to operate in all weather and visibility conditions,” said Tim Hand, Chief UAV Controller at Heliwest. “Since we began using it in November 2014, it has performed well in temperatures ranging from -12 degrees to 112 degrees; rain to snow; and smoke or dust.”
The Heliwest Group, which is providing aircraft and services in support of the firefighting mission, first took delivery of the Indago in November 2014; since then, Heliwest has flown the Indago more than 200 hours in support of multiple civil operations including firefighting, task inspections and surveying.