The Predator UAS on the Rim Fire

Predator drone
The 163d Reconnaissance Wing, California Air National Guard prepares the Predator MQ1 for lift off on it’s maiden voyage from Southern California Logistics Airport (SCLA) on 25 February 2009. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sergeant Stanley L. Thompson)

(UPDATE at 6:41 p.m. MDT, March 17, 2014)

The Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center has publicized information from two reports about the Unmanned Aerial System, the Predator, used on the Rim Fire. There is a report written by the LLC, and an AAR developed by one of the Incident Management Teams that was assigned to the fire.

One thing is clear. We need to decide on a name. UAS, drone, RPV, or UAV.


(Originally published at 12:49 p.m. MDT, March 14, 2014)

These videos describe the use of a California Air National Guard Predator unmanned aerial system on the Rim Fire, which burned 257,000 acres in and near Yosemite National Park last summer.

HERE is a link to a 17-second video which can’t be embedded, but it shows the operator’s screen.

Typos, let us know HERE. And, please keep in mind our commenting ground rules before you post a comment.

10 thoughts on “The Predator UAS on the Rim Fire”

  1. Hmmmmm

    19,000 feet in Positive Control Airspace with the ability to punch through smoke with sensors…….

    Probably more stable than operating at 400 ft like all the folks clamoring for their very own UAS

    Sure the Predator may be spendy….but those micro UAS’s may not last in a heat and wind laden environment

    But hey…..everyone needs their very own UAS/ UAV


  2. (Tongue firmly embedded in cheek)I am excited for this “Game Changer” as the Gentleman says at 2:30,”now we can set the pace, we determine where the fire will go”.
    REALLY That sounds like the attitude that gets firefighters killed.
    The predator looks like a great tool for recon and real time info, as long as airspace deconfliction is considered.

    1. When I read Smokier Bear’s post, I was prepared to defend the “we determine where the fire will go” comment as perhaps the intent was that the drone watchers could ‘understand’ and ‘better predict’ where the fire will go, instead of thinking they can control it. But in the video, the Cal Fire guy actually stated they could now “dictate” where the fire will go, which is of course utter bollocks. So, yes, I agree with Smokier: that’s a potentially dangerous way of thinking. I’m hoping it was one of those unintentional slips of the tongue one makes when a camera is pointed your way.

      At 19000′, there should be no airspace conflicts. It’s one of those ‘nobody here’ flight levels. One needs a clearance to climb past 18,000′, which is also well above any incident aircraft. Basic coordination with civil ATC will ensure no climbing or descending commercial traffic will transit the area of concern. Cruising IFR traffic generally flies higher than 19000 – even the smaller turboprops.

  3. Better at 19K than in the middle of an FTA where everyone else is operating at

    Coupled with overnight flights with a NIFC Citation…..

    Well ……I guess we need MORE UAV’s in the FTA just to compete with other Agencies who already have the technology who can or offer services without having MORE fire agency redudancy who need more technology that might require more than IT skills……usually folks with flying skills already established

    Just because the FAA might be behind in UAV technology……is usually exceeded by other agencies inability to manage the land, now requiring UAV assistance in fighting fire………

    1. Leo, I’m trying to understand what your beef is. Are you upset because UAVs may replace the role of agency and/or contractor flying? Are you concerned about airspace congestion? Is the involvement of the military that bothers you?

      Unmanned aircraft are not just random objects hurtling through the air – a midair waiting to happen. They are controlled very carefully by a human pilot (who just happens to be on the ground) and are generally more predictable and more precisely flown than the hornets’ nest of manned airplanes & helicopters.

  4. No beef, Anthony.

    Just invite you to read Aviation Week and Space Technology dated 10 Mar 2014. Read pages 30,31, and 58.

    Read the comparisons. Then ask your self…with old tech such the U2 which both USFS and NASA has……why are we even worried about everyone having their own.UAV tech?

    Unless the proverbial ability of satellites and U2 do not really have the ability to read license plates from their vantage points….

  5. Hi. Thank you for posting these reports! However, I couldn’t open/download the AAR report (as of Aug 2014). Is this report still available?

      1. Hi Bill,

        Thank you so much for your help!

        I enjoy reading your blog and complement you on its timeliness and insights!

        Best regards,


  6. Quick question…. Last year, the California ANG’s 163rd Reconnaissance Wing flew MQ-1s over the Yosemite Rim Fire to give ground crews an aerial view of the wildfire. Do you know if there are any like plans for this summer’s wildfires?

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