Lockheed demonstrates four drones

Above: A remotely-piloted K-MAX prepares to demonstrate dropping water on a fire at Griffiss International Airport. Screen shot from the video below.

On November 8 Lockheed Martin showed off four drones, or Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), at conference in Rome, New York. The aircraft included a backpack sized Indago 2, a Sikorsky S-76, and a K-MAX.

The K-MAX attempted to drop water on a small fire but overshot its target.

Last year near Boise, Lockheed demonstrated the remotely piloted K-MAX helicopter dropping water on a simulated fire and hauling cargo in an external load.

Salmon helibase supports Comet Fire

Above: Heli-Rappellers at Salmon, Idaho just after they were transported back to the base by a helicopter after supporting the Comet Fire. L to R: Chris Lilley, Jacob Edluna, and Matt Knott.

Thursday we stopped by the U.S. Forest Service Helibase at the airport at Salmon, Idaho. Some of the 19 USFS personnel assigned to the base were supporting the 367-acre Comet Fire 12 miles north of the airport.

Salmon helibase
Eric Ellis, Helibase Manager at the Salmon Heli-Rappeller Base.
Eric Ellis, the Base Manager who was kind enough to show us around, said they saw the lighting strike that ignited the fire on July 26. Later four firefighters from the base rappelled into the steep terrain. The helibase crew also helped to facilitate helicopter water bucket work and sling loads of equipment.

Comet Fire
The Comet Fire north of Salmon, Idaho.
At the base on Thursday was one 205++ helicopter and one K-MAX helicopter. A second 205++ and a Sikorsky were away working on fires.

Salmon helibase
One of HeliMax’s 205++ helicopters lands at Salmon, Idaho July 28, 2016 while supporting the Comet Fire north of Salmon.
Salmon is the home of the largest of the USFS rappel bases. They have two 205++ helicopters assigned that are each staffed seven days a week. The USFS is the only federal land management agency that has wildland firefighters who rappel into fires. The National Park Service has quite a few helitack personnel trained for short haul, the technique of transporting one or more people at the end of a rope attached to a helicopter, but without sliding down the rope.

Salmon helibase
A K-MAX helicopter at the Salmon Helibase July 28. An hour or so later it was dropping water on the Comet Fire
An hour or so after we photographed the K-MAX helicopter at the base, we saw the same ship dropping water on the Comet Fire.

K-MAX Comet Fire
A K-MAX helicopter drops water on the Comet Fire north of Salmon, Idaho July 28, 2016.

Salmon helibase
After they were declared surplus by the military, the Salmon Heli-Rappellers obtained these pieces of helicopters and spent $10,000 each to have them configured exactly like the actual rappel ships in order to make their training as realistic as possible.
 

All photos are by Bill Gabbert

Remotely operated K-MAX helicopters relocated to Arizona

Above: The Marine Corps’ first two Kaman K-MAX Helicopters arrived at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., Saturday, May 7, 2016. Photo by Pfc. Beorge Melendez.

The two remotely piloted K-MAX helicopters that have been used in Afghanistan for the last several years were recently relocated to Yuma, Arizona. These two helicopters are probably similar to the optionally-piloted K-MAX that was demonstrated to wildland fire personnel last October near Boise when it dropped water on a simulated fire and delivered external cargo.

Below are the details, as provided by the Marine Corp, about the two K-MAX ships that are now in Arizona.

****

MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. – The Marine Corps’ first two Kaman K-MAX Helicopters arrived at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz. May 7, 2016.

The Kaman K-MAX Helicopter is very unique in many different ways, such as its purpose and design. It is a helicopter with interlinking rotors whose primary mission is to provide cargo load operations with a maximum lift payload of 6,000 pounds.

“The most unique thing is this aircraft can fly itself,” said Jerry McCawley, a Chief Pilot and Flight Safety Engineer with Lockheed Martin. “These two particular aircraft were over in Afghanistan for almost three years flying unhanded, and moving almost five million pounds of cargo, keeping numerous convoys off the road, preventing any roadside attacks.”
The K-MAX will utilize MCAS Yuma’s training ranges in both Arizona and California, and will soon have an integral part in testing and operations.

As MCAS Yuma continues expanding its scope of operations, the K-MAX will continue revolutionizing expeditionary Marine air-ground combat power in all environments.
“It’s very resilient and can fly day or night,” said McCawley. “It’s out here in Yuma for future test and development with the Marines. It’s great now, and it’s only going to get better.”

The K-MAX will be added to MCAS Yuma’s already vast collection of military aircraft, strengthening training, testing and operations across the Marine Corps.

US Representative says drones could fight wildfires

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton of Colorado says drones could be used to fight fires. Here is an excerpt from an article in The DAily Sentinel:

..Drones could be equipped with fire suppression equipment that could be used on small, remote fires, limiting the growth of the blazes and possibly circumventing the need to call in firefighters, Tipton said.

Firefighters could “see a fire start up, send in a drone and maybe stamp it out,” Tipton said.

The vehicles would have to be modified to deliver retardant and will need to withstand heat, Tipton said.

Drones also could be used to provide better information to firefighters on the ground, especially in smoky areas that limit visibility and inhibit radio transmissions, he said…

There is little doubt that drones could be used on fires. Lockheed Martin and K-Max demonstrated that in October when an optionally-piloted K-Max helicopter hauled cargo to a designated spot and dropped water on a simulated fire. As of October, 2013 two unmanned K-Max helicopters had flown more than 1,000 missions in Afghanistan and hauled more than 3 million pounds of cargo that would have otherwise been transported by trucks, which are vulnerable to roadside bomb attacks. One goal is to save lives by reducing Marines’ exposure to improvised explosive devices on cargo convoys.

K-Max helicopter
A K-Max helicopter at the Custer, SD airport, April 2, 2016. This one has not been modified to be remotely piloted.

The biggest issue for using unmanned aircraft on fires is getting the FAA and land managers to address the issue of safely incorporating the systems into the fire aviation environment.

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

Three helicopters and one air tanker available for the Cold Fire

The Incident Commander ordered two large air tankers but only one was available.

Above: a Sky Aviation Bell 206L4 (N482TJ) lands at Custer Airport near a Central Copters K-MAX (N115).

On Saturday when the Cold Fire started 8 miles southeast of Custer, South Dakota, no firefighting aircraft were available. The Incident Commander requested an air attack platform, two National Guard Blackhawk helicopters, two large air tankers, and one light helicopter. Sunday a P2V departed Chattanooga, Tennessee and most likely cruised at about 200 mph until it arrived in Rapid City at about 3 p.m.

ch-47d chinook billings flying service
One of Billings Flying Service’s CH-47D Chinooks, at Custer Airport, April 3, 2016.

The P2V was not used Sunday, in part because the winds were too strong and turbulent. Two National Guard Blackhawk helicopters dropped water Sunday morning. Three privately owned contracted helicopters became available at the Custer Airport: one K-MAX (Central Copters), one CH-47D Chinook (Billings Flying Service), and a Bell 206L4 (Sky Aviation), but only the 206L4 was used. It dropped numerous loads of water Sunday afternoon while we were there.

Chinook Custer airport
One of Billings Flying Service’s CH-47D Chinooks (N561AJ), at Custer Airport, April 3, 2016.

We wrote about the Billings Flying Service Chinooks in 2014 when they became the first civilian operator to obtain CH-47Ds. Gary Blain, a co-owner of the company, and another pilot flew two of them from the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, Alabama to the company’s facilities south of Billings, Montana near the Yellowstone River. Two of the company’s CH-47Ds are on federal contract through April 30, 2017.

chinook water bucket
The data plate on the water bucket used by the Chinook.

Anything you do with aircraft is expensive. Mr. Blain said they spent $32,000 for fuel during their two-day trip, with an overnight stopover in Norfolk, Nebraska.

K-MAX custer airport
A Central Copters K-MAX at Custer Airport, April, 3 2016. N115.

We have seen that K-MAX paint job before, but it was on a different K-MAX operated by Central Copters, N414.

When the Chinook arrived at Custer, some of the cargo that was unloaded is in this photo. Can you guess what it was? Let us know in a comment.

Chinook
Cargo unloaded from the Chinook upon arrival at Custer.

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

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.

****

“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.”

****

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.

Remotely-piloted helicopter demonstrates dropping water on a simulated fire

K-MAX remotely piloted dipping water
A remotely-piloted K-MAX helicopter refills a water bucket during testing before an October 14, 2015 demonstration east of Boise, ID. Screen grab from Lockheed Martin video.

Wildland fire officials from federal agencies on Wednesday watched a remotely-piloted helicopter dropping water on a simulated fire and hauling cargo in an external load. The K-MAX helicopter shown today, which almost qualifies as a Type 1 helicopter, has been configured by the Lockheed Martin and K-Max Corporations to be either flown by a pilot on board, or a pilot in a remote location.

Ironically the demonstration occurred on a day when smoke was visible in the air from the 4,200-acre Walker Fire, 13 miles north of the Lucky Peak Helibase where the demo took place east of Boise, Idaho. A safety pilot was on board in case a problem developed.

The hour and a half demonstration included the following missions:

  • Spot drop – 100 feet
  • Spot drop – 55 feet
  • Trailing drop – 55 feet both at the demo area and at the ridge
  • Carousel delivery – 55 feet, two each to the demo area and on the ridge
  • Backhaul Cargo from the ridge – 150 feet

(The video above was shot by Lockheed Martin during testing prior to an October 14, 2015 demonstration of a remotely-piloted K-MAX helicopter dropping water on on a simulated wildfire.)

Below is an excerpt from an AP article:

The K-MAX demonstrated Wednesday has three communication methods, using line of sight and two different satellite links. The craft can be remotely controlled, but it also flies autonomously after being told what to do.

Even if it loses contact with ground controllers, it can complete a task, officials said. It can also be programmed to fly to a specific landing zone on its own if it loses communication for a pre-set amount of time, such as 10 minutes.

“The technology of the auto-control for the aircraft is not really the hard part. It’s all this sensor technology that integrates with the autopilot to tell the helicopter where it’s at”, said Mark Bathrick, director of the Interior Department’s Office of Aviation Services.

Lockheed Martin-configured unmanned K-MAXs delivered thousands of loads of supplies and equipment to soldiers in Afghanistan between 2011 and 2014, carrying more than 4.5 million pounds of cargo, sometimes through areas that would be considered unacceptably risky for human pilots.

Unlike Predator drones, which are remotely piloted, the K-MAX helicopters in Afghanistan followed a pre-programmed route using Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates, and required human intervention only to get started.

If this technology matures to the point where fire officials would feel comfortable using it on actual fires, a helicopter like the K-MAX could be flown during the day (the old fashioned way) with a pilot on board, and then during smoky conditions or at night when most other firefighting aircraft are grounded it could still be effective — dropping water to slow down a fire when the blaze is most vulnerable to suppression activity. Fires usually more more slowly at night and a water drop when the temperature is lower and the relative humidity is higher would be more effective as long as firefighters were on the ground and able to take advantage of the temporary slowing of the fire’s spread.