The two large air tankers from North America that are under contract to the Victorian government during Australia’s 2014/2015 bushfire season have been relocated to Western Australia where two large fires are burning. One fire is about 150 kilometers (93 miles) south of Perth and the other is about 300 kilometers (186 miles) south of the city. The two aircraft, Coulson’s C-130Q and Aero-Flite’s RJ-85, are working out of RAAF Base Pearce (YPEA) northeast of Perth (map).
Thursday evening, MST time, the two air tankers filed flight plans to depart and land at YPEA, scheduled to land four hours after taking off.
Two Sikorsky S64E Air-Crane helicopters are also being moved to Western Australia.
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.
The 17,000-acre Bullsbrook Fire in Western Australia destroyed 180 power poles and more than a mile of line. In addition to replacing the damaged equipment, Western Power is using a contracted helicopter to pressure wash the powerline to remove ash which can cause arcing or even start fires.
“From [Friday January 16] and over the weekend, a helicopter crew will fly above the network in the Bullsbrook region and spray powerlines and pole top equipment with demineralised water to safely wash away the build-up of pollution”, Western Power’s Head of Field Operations Brad Lacey said.
“We use demineralised water to prevent the electricity current travelling back up the water stream to the helicopter.”
Mr Lacey said the helicopter would need to hover quite low to spray the powerlines and Western Power advises residents in the Bullsbrook area to move livestock from paddocks that are close to powerlines.
Cleaning the powerlines with water from a helicopter is usually done on a regular basis by the company, but they scheduled this extra cleaning due to the ash deposited by the Bullsbrook Fire.