Lockheed Martin develops small drone to work with remotely-piloted K-MAX helicopter to fight wildfire

(Last Updated On: January 21, 2016)
K-MAX and Stalker
The Stalker XE UAS directed the unmanned K-MAX cargo helicopter to conduct water drops at a precise location to extinguish a fire. The Stalker XE and K-MAX operated in collaboration with a prototype UAS Traffic Management (UTM) system, which provides essential capabilities to enable safe UAS operations.

In October Lockheed Martin demonstrated for wildland fire officials in the Boise area the use of a remotely-piloted K-MAX helicopter for dropping water on a simulated fire and delivering externally-carried cargo. Now the company is developing a system that uses a small drone to work with the K-MAX to communicate with Air Traffic Control in real time.

Below is the text of a news release.

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“Lockheed Martin demonstrated its ability to integrate unmanned aircraft system (UAS) operations into the National Airspace System (NAS) using its prototype UAS Traffic Management (UTM) capabilities, the company said in a Dec. 2 release.

During the demonstration on Nov. 18, the Stalker XE UAS provided data and a precise geolocation to the unmanned K-MAX cargo helicopter, which conducted water drops to extinguish a fire, while the UTM tracked the UAS operations and communicated with Air Traffic Control in real time.

“This demonstration represents the path forward for flying UAS in the NAS using Flight Service-based UTM capabilities to extend the technology and systems that air traffic controllers know and understand,” Paul Engola, vice president, Transportation & Financial Solutions, said in the release. “We were able to successfully modify the existing K-MAX and Stalker XE ground control software to connect to the UTM services and conduct the firefighting mission.”

For more than 80 years, manned aircraft have supported firefighting missions during daylight hours. Because unmanned K-MAX can fly day and night, in all weather, its insertion into firefighting operations offers the potential to triple the amount of time ground firefighters can receive aerial support.

The Stalker XE UAS worked in tandem with K-MAX to identify hot spots and fire intensity with its electro-optical, infrared camera. Its stable, high definition imaging capabilities enable day and night operations. Powered by a ruggedized solid oxide fuel cell, Stalker XE achieves more than eight hours of flight endurance.”

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K-MAX helicopter fire
Image produced by Lockheed Martin of a wildland firefighter and a K-MAX helicopter. Click to enlarge. (It is obviously a created rather than an actual image, since the shadows of the firefighter and the helicopter go in opposite directions.)

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Chris.

2 thoughts on “Lockheed Martin develops small drone to work with remotely-piloted K-MAX helicopter to fight wildfire”

  1. If they use them at night ok. We don’t need pilotless aircraft over a fire during they when there a so many other aircraft operating. Just looking for trouble for with drones and pilotless aircraft.

  2. I can imagine that the future of wildlland firefighting would involve drones and unmanned aircraft, despite issues we currently have with drones on fires. Remember there are occasional issues with private fixed wing aircraft flying over fires, however we still have a need for agency fixed wings. The ability to get air support at night and in adverse weather and smoke conditions could be invaluable in the future.

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