Drones may be used over wildfires in Oregon and Washington next year

ScanEagle drone
Boeing’s ScanEagle. Boeing photo.

From KPLU:

State forestry departments in Washington and Oregon had hoped to try out drones this summer to provide reconnaissance at wildfire scenes. But neither firefighting agency managed to pull it off. Now both plan to try again next year.

State foresters in southern Oregon acquired a remote-controlled helicopter at the beginning of fire season, but discovered they couldn’t legally fly it without pilot’s licenses. The training and paperwork are now in progress.

Meanwhile, a leader in the Northwest’s unmanned aircraft industry has launched a separate project to develop a nighttime wildfire reconnaissance capability. Eric Simpkins of Bend, Oregon, said he’s lined up four drone providers willing to donate flight time to demonstrate the new technology for wildfires.

“Fires do change during the night. Winds come up, move the fires a lot,” Simpkins said at an industry conference in Warm Springs, Oregon. “It is very hard for fire managers to know what is going on during hours of darkness and it inhibits their ability to get a quick start the next morning.”

This past July, Washington’s Department of Natural Resources got emergency approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to deploy a drone at a wildfire north of Wenatchee. Boeing subsidiary Insitu provided one of its ScanEagle unmanned aircraft to use for free. But the experiment was scrubbed at the last minute.

A state spokesman says they want to try again next summer on a tamer wildfire.


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

10 thoughts on “Drones may be used over wildfires in Oregon and Washington next year”

  1. ScanEagle is NOT your typical quadcopter

    Again, State Foresters thinking this aircraft did not need a pilots license

    Training and paperwork in progress? Guess it’s better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission

    I guess that is what happens when technology and the good ideas fairies often get ahead of regulation…..which in this realm of aviation will be in the news and probably in court before you know it, and with some of the YouTube of the drone vs aircraft over Afganistan……would MAYBE convince folks that maybe clearing the airspace before a drone/ UAV goes into operation would be prudent.

    Guess getting emergency approval from the FAA is not so hard after all even if a scrubbed mission is the result

  2. Best read CBS Dallas tonight…….

    A loose quadcopter with a camera attached crashes at Dallas. Love Field

    More of this? Surely regulation will get tougher……

    Just ask any pilot nowadays after the Colgan 3407 flight at Buffalo….changing the pilot hours and requirements for a loooong time to come.

    The UAV / drone issue are just crying for regulation after this liiiiitle incursion…..no pun intended!

    1. Innovation is also hindered by needless deaths and serious accidents, like those that are sure to occur if drones are un-regulated and flying in airspace with fixed and rotary winged aircraft on fire missions.

      1. Emmett and Leo, I didn’t advocate UAVs be UNregulated, I said OVER-regulation. There exists a small hazard associated with the recent proliferation of cheap UAVs, and inevitably, some careless or irresponsible people will pose some added risk around ares with managed airspace (airports, emergency incidents, etc). But rather then getting our knickers all twisted, it might be preferable to engage the UAV community to work towards a common solution rather then haphazardly pointing to anecdotal problems, or exaggerating the actual risk of drones interfering with aircraft.

        The biggest airspace problem over wildfires today is all the assigned aircraft not always following protocol and crossing their own wires of communication. They do a fine job of posing a real risk to each other already. Are there any actual documented incidents of a private drone causing any conflict or interfering with any emergency aerial operation?

        I don’t suggest we bury our heads in the sand and pretend that a small added risk doesn’t exist – it will do as the UAVs become more popular. But the opposite tactic of spreading fear and outrage from the rooftops is hardly an appropriate response either.

        I foresee far more benefits than hazards coming from the increased use of UAVs – both privately or agency operated. We’d be wise to encourage their use in a responsible fashion. Some rules will of course be necessary, but given that bureaucracy breeds mediocrity, let’s try to rein in our tendency to make a policy and a procedure for every tiny little detail, or worse yet, issue a blanket ban without actually sitting down and devoting some real thought to the issue.

        1. Saying that there is a “UAV community” is parallel to saying that there is an “ATV Community”, and those of us in natural resources know how effective we’ve been in keeping them under reasonable levels of use and preventing resource damage. UAVs are getting cheaper and more wide-spread; so is the potential for wrecks they cause without serious constraints.

          1. As opposed to mildly humorous constraints?

            The inability to prevent irresponsible ATV use on public lands stems not from lax regulations, but from uninspired and/or underfunded enforcement. A few rotten apples within any group of enthusiasts will create the majority of the problems; the same can be anticipated with UAV use. Go ahead and impose a thick binder full of rules and fool yourself into believing that will eliminate all risk of an incident or accident.

            Or…you can implement common-sense regulations and work with UAV manufacturers, dealers and associations to educate the end users of the responsibility that is expected with the use of any mechanical product. You’ll find for example, that 99% of ATV users can be your allies; their community can become self-policing and deter their rotten-apple members from tearing up the alpine.

            Innovation is what made the US great. Its slide towards becoming a nanny state is steepened by knee-jerk reactions to low-probability risks such as drone conflicts with firefighting aircraft.

  3. Quite right…..

    So let’s have innovation hinder other operations

    Some testing going on in Germany…..DHL? Problems with quadcopter delivery service

    Guess what would be hindering them?


    So ok, let’s not regulate and see where this all goes, eh?

  4. I don’t think evasive manuevers by rotary and fixed wing aircraft in either fire or non fire airspace environments a knee jerk reaction

    Likewise require basic airmanship skills ought to be the regulation.

    A 40 hour ground school to understand even the barest minimums.

    If we aircraft mechanics and pilots have to prove our skills to a FAA Designated Pilot Examiner……then it should be a minimum requirement for drone and UAV operators.

    If AAI and General Atomics and the military require a ground school and pilot licenses…..then…..

    The rest of the general drone operators ought PAY and DEMONSTRATE those skills like the rest of us airman.

    THAT should be bare minimum……not just the ability to walk down the street with your game controller and a quadcopter and start calling self a professional disaster assessment professional or photo pilot by any stretch without more than a PlayStation degree

  5. Dear Fire Aviation and Firefighters,
    Hello, I’m Khoa, I’m a student at the University of San Diego with some experimental unmanned technology and I’m interested in getting into the public safety sector. I’m currently looking to apply this technology to firefighting, and my team is interested to get your perspective on this subject. We’re trying to finalize a terrain following autonomous FLIR equipped design, and we’d really appreciate the help and expertise that’s already in the field. Thank you so much, if need be, please check us out at https://sites.google.com/site/foxbatdynamics/home.

    Best Regards,

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