(Originally published February 4, 2015; updated February 12, 2015)
An organization in Colorado Springs is hoping the city will host the state’s new Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting. The Center was authorized in legislation signed by Governor John Hickenlooper last May which also provided funds for firefighting helicopters and air tankers. The state began contracting for helicopters last summer, and purchased two Pilatus PC-12 fixed wing aircraft to be used for the early detection and persistent surveillance of wildfires. Lawmakers also appropriated $700,000 to establish and operate the Center in its first year, which is expected to be 2015.
The purpose of the Center, according to the legislation, is to:
- Serve as a laboratory to evaluate the “three fundamental contributing factors to successful aerial firefighting: effectiveness, efficiency, and sustainability”.
- Conduct research to evaluate new technology in a variety of settings, such as initial attack, night operations, and operations in wildland-urban interface areas.
- Produce data and documentation on science and technology relevant to aerial firefighting.
One of the members of the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance trying to land the Center in their city is Tony Kern, former national aviation director for the U.S. Forest Service.
Below is an excerpt from an article at Csindy.com:
…The center, to be opened before the end of this year, will bring at least eight jobs. But more importantly, it could spark interest from companies working to develop technology for innovative wildland firefighting, Kern says, and prompt them to set up offices here.
“We have had the two largest wildland-urban interface fires in America in the last three to four years,” Kern says, referring to the Waldo Canyon and Black Forest fires. “We have the experience and the background. We are motivated and experienced in that whole area.”
In addition, Kern points out, the region offers a central location on the heavily populated Front Range; proximity to military assets that could become part of the research effort, including Fort Carson’s helicopter unit and the 302nd Airlift Wing at Peterson Air Force Base; and an airport with low rates of weather-related closure and few traffic delays for take-off, due largely to its low number of commercial flights.
Ryan May Hardy wrote an article for the Colorado Springs Gazette on February 12 with more details about the competition for the site of the Center.