Parallel Flight Technology nearing completion of their Beta model

Designed to carry 100 pounds for 2 hours

Parallel Flight Technology's Beta Drone
Parallel Flight Technology CEO Joshua Resnick with their Beta drone. PFT image, December, 2020.

Joshua Resnick, CEO of Parallel Flight Technology (PFT), hosted a webinar earlier on December 10 with Douglas Thron, an aerial cinematographer and wildlife rescuer who uses drones to save animals after natural disasters.

The discussion ranged far beyond saving animals and drifted to the technical specifications of the drones that PFT is designing and building. Their latest model is what they call the Beta, and is expected to be able to carry 100 pounds for two hours. The company has been testing prototypes for months, but the Beta may start flight tests in the coming months. (Refer to the video below, at 17:40)

PFT’s drones have four gas powered engines which generate electricity for electric motors that drive the four props. The engines are redundant — if one fails, electricity from the other three can still power all four electric motors.

PFT is talking with wildland fire agencies, including the California Department of Forestry and Fire Suppression, about how their drones could be useful to firefighters.

The next level up drone on their drawing board will have a target payload of 350 to 400 pounds with potential applications being the emergency extraction of a firefighter or dropping up to 50 gallons of water on a wildfire.

At 32:00 in the video below they answer questions that were submitted live during the webinar. Most of them were very good and interesting, except, “Is your drone solar powered?”

The video is cued to start at 17:33.

There are many ways a drone that can haul 100 pounds could be useful for wildland firefighters.

Picture this. It is midnight. A couple of Hotshot crews on extended attack in a remote area would like to conduct a firing operation on a slope leading down to a creek. A hose lay would increase their chances of success, and there’s water in the creek. Helicopters can’t haul cargo at night, so they request a call when needed drone sitting at the helibase to bring in a small pump and two Gasner hose packs with nozzles, gated wyes, and a total of 400 feet of hose. That is enough to get the crews started installing the pump and the hose lay. The drone makes additional sorties as needed, bringing three more Gasner packs and pump fuel on the second load. It might even bring in food and drinking water if the crews have not eaten in the last 12 hours. Or fuel for chain saws and drip torches.

After the hose lay is in and the firing begins, the drone returns outfitted with an infrared camera, then hovers for two hours watching for spot fires and providing live video to the Hotshots, the Division Supervisor, and Operations Section Chief.

If the next level beyond Beta is available, a drone could be on scene with 50 gallons of water to drop on spot fires during the firing operation while also providing live video. If it could refill at the creek, it could deliver hundreds of gallons throughout the night.

DroneSeed receives FAA approval to operate drone swarms beyond visual line of sight

The drones are being used to drop seeds to reforest burned areas

Updated December 7, 2020   |   8:21 p.m. PST

DroneSeed
DroneSeed. CNN image

DroneSeed, a company that uses fleets of drones to reforest areas burned in wildfires, received approval in October from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for its heavy-lift drones to operate Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) and to expand its use of heavy-lift drone swarms to California, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. They previously had FAA authorization to operate in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.

The FAA’s action allows DroneSeed to begin reforesting once a fire is contained and airspace is clear. Their aircraft drop seeds that are encapsulated in vessels consisting of four to six seeds, fertilizer, natural pest deterrents, and fibrous material which absorbs water and increases survivability.

The company has designed a system around a swarm of drones that can drop tree seeds in places where they have a decent chance of survival. First they survey the area with a drone using lidar and a multispectral camera to map the terrain and the vegetation. The next step is to use artificial intelligence to sort through the mapping data to find areas where a dropped seed is most likely to germinate, in order to avoid, for example, rock, roads, and unburned locations. After the aircraft are launched, the five aircraft operate autonomously as they fly grid patterns.

A swarm of five drones can reseed 25 to 50 acres each day, said Grant Canary, CEO of DroneSeed. While on a seed-dropping mission each drone can stay in the air for 8 to 18 minutes, then returns to the helibase where it is reloaded with seed vessels and the battery is replaced. Mr. Canary said it takes about 6 minutes to replace the battery and the 57-pound seed vessel container.

DroneSeed makes their aircraft, they are not off-the-shelf consumer level drones. Batteries power the electric motors that drive the propellers. When at a work site, the workers bring five batteries for each aircraft which are recharged with a proprietary charging system run off a generator.

The company has about 40 employees, 10 of whom may be manufacturing seed vessels for ongoing or upcoming reseeding projects.

The company is already reforesting some of the areas burned this year in the one million-acre August Complex of fires in Northern California, and the 173,000-acre Holiday Farm Fire in Oregon.

While most aircraft hired by land management agencies are paid by the flight hour and daily availability rates, DroneSeed charges by the acre.

After sites are selected, seed vessels are manufactured, in many cases containing native Douglas Fir or Ponderosa Pine seeds harvested from the general part of the country where they will be later dispersed.

Currently DroneSeed is the only company in the United States approved to operate with heavy-lift drone swarms, according to the company.

The video below describes the reseeding system beginning at 0:32 and ending at 3:52.

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

Opinion: Congress needs to be careful about banning all parts for drones made outside the U.S.

October 21, 2020   |   1:44 p.m.

drone wildland fire
Drone Amplified photo.

By Carrick Detweiler

The end of summer means the heart of fire season for many Americans. You’ve probably read about a fire somewhere in the United States; so far this year, more than 43,000 fires have burned in states throughout the country, with more than 7 million acres destroyed or damaged nationwide and more than a thousand acres locally in Nebraska. In practical terms, these fires have ravaged property, homes and lives, leaving behind burned out businesses and discarded family memories.
Those on the front lines working to protect lives and livelihoods need every tool available to fight back and keep the fires at bay. For many working to head off the next big fire, it also means managing lands at high risk for the next devastating blaze through prescribed burns. And over the past several years, firefighters have embraced a new tool to help them manage fires: drones.

My company, Drone Amplified, is a Nebraska small business that is helping firefighters across America. We founded our company based on pioneering work conducted at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Our product, Ignis, is a sophisticated drone-based system that works in concert with fire-protection agencies to set fires in areas that have been identified as high risk. These burns effectively eliminate the fuel wildfires rely on to spread out of control. They are critical tools for federal, state and local agencies charged with reducing fire danger.

Right now, drones are helping state and federal officials in California battle fires throughout the state. Officials in neighboring Colorado used our Ignis system to perform backburns to contain the Pine Gulch fire, which is the largest fire in Colorado history. Drones have become part of everyday wildfire management and prevention.

drone wildland fire
Drone Amplified photo.

Drones are key to wildfire management not because they are exciting and futuristic. It’s because they are safer and cheaper than the traditional approach using manned helicopters. Since July of this year alone, at least five people have died in helicopters and airplanes flying aerial firefighting missions. By contrast, an unmanned drone can fly through smoke or at night, eliminating such risks. And a United States Department of Agriculture study found that using a drone with our Ignis system for fire prevention work costs $1,800 a day, compared to $16,000 a day when using a helicopter.

Despite the success we’ve seen with drones in controlling and fighting wildfires, recent policy proposals risk reversing the success we’ve seen in using drones for wildfire management. For example, a key bill under consideration in Congress would ban certain drones based on where they are made. Under these proposed policies, a majority of federal, state and local firefighters couldn’t use many of their drones even if a single part was made in China, grounding much of the deployed drone fleet and leaving a gaping hole in the resources first responders use today.

These proposals stem from fear that drones made in China actually send data to China and, more specifically, the Chinese government. Of course, it’s right to be concerned about data security. We have to know the products we rely on are secure and safe. But recently, we’ve seen studies from independent third-party testers that demonstrate how drones from a leading drone manufacturer, Chinese-based DJI, do not transmit data to China. And that’s important to us. Our business, and the work of so many firefighters, counts on drone technology from around the world. Knowing that our data is protected is absolutely critical. Without that knowledge, we wouldn’t do business with DJI or any other company. After all, we’re a business that works with firefighters and law enforcement every day. We care deeply about protecting our nation’s security and the privacy of user data. If we didn’t trust it, we wouldn’t use it.

One way to better assess the data security risks associated with drones is to consider the creation of government-issued standards to protect data and make sure user data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands — standards that would apply to any drone no matter where it was made. This should be complemented with investments in American companies that are developing the next generation of drone technologies.

drone wildland fire
Drone Amplified photo.

As a Nebraska startup, we’re passionate about our work and our innovation. We want to be recognized for creating something truly meaningful. We want to grow and contribute to the Nebraska economy. But we can’t do that if Washington sets policy based out of fear, with no consideration for the real-world impacts. We need Washington to reconsider these proposals that would ban drones because of their country-of-origin. Instead, policymakers in Washington should set national standards that would apply to everybody, whether the technology is made in China, France or the United States.

Drones may seem like gadgets used by amateur pilots and aviation geeks. And that would probably be true. But for many of us, they are literally saving lives. Washington needs to let us continue what we and many others are doing to protect people and communities from wildfires.

Carrick Detweiler received his Ph.D. from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2010 and joined the University of Nebraska-Lincoln as a faculty member in the Computer Science and Engineering Department in 2010. In 2015, he co-founded Drone Amplified to commercialize technology developed at UNL. He is currently the CEO of Drone Amplified which is redefining fire management practices by enabling safe, efficient and low-cost aerial ignition and fire analytics.

Companies are improving capabilities of drones to transport heavier loads

Bell APT 70
APT 70. Bell image.

Many companies are experimenting with drones that can transport cargo. One day drones, unmanned aerial systems (UAS), will assist wildland firefighters by resupplying them with drinking water, portable pumps, fire hose, chain saws, fuel, food, and firing equipment. Today we will look at the experimental aircraft being built and tested by two organizations.

Bell, a company well known for their helicopters, is part of Textron Inc. that also includes Cessna, Beechcraft, Hawker, and several other companies. In 2018 we wrote about their design for an Autonomous Pod Transport (APT) with a goal of hauling 1,000-pounds of cargo. But recently they flight tested a more modest version, the APT 70, that will be able to carry 70 pounds. The objective was to execute a Beyond Visual Line-of-Sight mission in an urban environment transitioning into and out of Class B airspace representing future commercial flights.

Bell APT 70
APT 70. Bell image.

The APT 70 takes off vertically, then rotates to fly on its wings.

Integrated onto the APT 70 is Xwing’s airborne, multi-sensing detect and avoid system. Xwing’s system is comprised of radars, ADS-B, visual system, and onboard processing to provide aircraft tracks and pilot alerts transmitted to the ground station.

Parallel Flight Technologies has been testing proof of concept and prototype drones since the fall of 2018. The lead electrical engineer that helped design the Tesla all-electric battery-powered semi-trailer truck is one of the three people that have created the company that is developing an unmanned aircraft system that could be used on fires, as well as other functions. Joshua Resnick, now the CEO, said “We are building a new drone technology and it can be used for a lot of different things, but wildfire would really be the use case that was the impetus for me to even start on this project.”

Parallel Flight Technologies Beta
Beta. Image by Parallel Flight Technologies.

Their photos and designs often show their drone carrying chain saws or fire hose.

“We have developed a parallel hybrid drone,” Mr. Resnick said, “where the propellers are powered by a combination of gas and electric. The electric motors provide the responsiveness so the aircraft can maneuver and the gas supplies the duration and the high power to weight ratio.”

The aircraft is powered by four hybrid power modules, each with a gas-electric combination. The 2-cycle gas engines work in combination with the electric motors, which provide very high peak thrust as well as redundancy. Larger aircraft in the pipeline could be powered by other fuels, such as diesel or jet fuel.

Parallel is now building a beta version of the aircraft, appropriately named, “Beta”.

The design projects the payload capability (excluding fuel) for the Beta of 100 pounds for 1 hour, 40 pounds for 4 hours, and 10 pounds for 7 hours.

The company expects the Beta will have applications across industries such as firefighting, industrial logistics, and healthcare.

Parallel is currently testing key components of the aircraft and is planning flight testing for the fourth quarter of this year.  “We have a strong customer pipeline for Beta units to be delivered in 2021,” a spokesperson wrote in a statement.

Parallel Flight Technologies Beta
Beta. Image by Parallel Flight Technologies.

New hybrid quad-rotor UAS is being used on fires this summer

It can stay aloft for 12 hours mapping the fire and providing real-time video

FVR-90 hybrid Unmanned Aerial System
FVR-90 hybrid Unmanned Aerial System. Bridger Aerospace photo. (N171RE)

Bridger Aerospace has been operating an unmanned aerial system (UAS) on wildfires this year that first went into production in 2019 built by L3 Latitude Engineering. Their FVR-90 Hybrid quadrotor vertical take-off and landing unmanned aircraft has four rotors and a pushing propeller that can stay aloft for 12 hours. Orbiting over a fire above other aircraft at 12,000 feet it can use standard visual video cameras or heat-sensing infrared technology to monitor and map fires in real time.

In June the system was used on the Sawtooth Fire in Arizona, flying all night to map the perimeter and monitor spread of the fire. The next morning the UAS crew gave briefings to the Operations personnel so they could be armed with the latest intelligence.

Unlike drones that need a catapult to take off or a net to be recaptured, the FVR-90 can use the electrically-powered rotors to take off and then engage the gasoline-powered propeller for forward flight.

The Ravalli Republic has an interesting article about the aircraft being used this week on the Cinnabar Fire southeast of Missoula, Montana. Firefighters on the Sawtooth Fire made an 80-second video about the use of the aircraft in Arizona.

FVR-90 hybrid UAS
FVR-90 hybrid UAS. L3 Latitude Engineering photo.
FVR-90 hybrid UAS
FVR-90 UAS taking off at the Cinnabar Fire, August 30, 2020. (N151RE) InciWeb.
Bridger Aerospace
Bridger Aerospace’s UAS at the Sawtooth Fire in Arizona, 2020. The map was produced using data collected by the aircraft overnight. Bridger Aerospace image.

Drones have been used on the Sawtooth Fire in Arizona

Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) module drone Sawtooth Fire
An Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) module on the Sawtooth Fire, June 3, 2020. InciWeb photo.

One of the aerial support tools firefighters have been using for a variety of tasks on the Sawtooth Fire 10 miles east of Apache Junction, Arizona are Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS or drones). UAS are gathering images and video and patrolling areas inaccessible to firefighters or larger aircraft. While this technology does not replace the need for large aircraft and helicopters, it does lower the risk to fire crews both in the air and on the ground. The UAS Operators are trained, qualified, and have constant communication with other fire aircraft.

Parallel Flight Technology’s next drone model will be able to carry 100 pounds for hours

Parallel Flight Technologies drone fires wildfires transport supplies
Joshua Resnick, the CEO of Parallel Flight Technologies, describes in a video how their drones can carry chainsaws and other equipment for wildland firefighters. Image from Santa Cruz Tech Beat video.

The first experimental drone that Parallel Flight Technology (PFT) developed can transport 75 of pounds for one hour, 50 pounds for 2.7 hours, or 10 pounds for 6.4 hours. They are currently designing what they call a beta level aircraft that can haul 100 pounds for hours.

“We are building a new drone technology and it can be used for a lot of different things, but wildfire would really be the use case that was the impetus for me to even start on this project,” Joshua Resnick, the CEO of PFT told us in November. “We had a fire not far from our home in Santa Cruz, California in 2017 either right before or right after the Santa Rosa Fire, and it was after that that I started looking into the different ways that unmanned systems could be used in a wildfire effort. That’s when I started understanding that using unmanned systems to resupply firefighters could be very useful especially when manned aircraft could not fly due to smoke inversions or nighttime.”

Mr. Resnick, formerly the lead electrical engineer that helped design the Tesla all-electric battery-powered semi-trailer truck, is one of the three people that created PFT.

Instead of relying on batteries to drive the new drone’s propellers, the aircraft is powered by four hybrid power modules, each with a gas-electric combination. The 2-cycle gas engines work in combination with the electric motors, which provide very high peak thrust as well as redundancy. Larger aircraft in the PFT’s pipeline could be powered by other fuels, such as diesel or jet fuel.

In the video below Mr. Resnick begins talking about how it could be used on fires at 4:35.

Parallel Flight Technologies drone
Parallel Flight Technologies photo.

DOI makes it official — most of its drones are grounded

Drones used for emergencies are exempted — for now

drones Oregon mapping aerial ignition wildfires
A drone used in 2018 on the Taylor Creek and Klondike Fires in southwest Oregon.

The Secretary of the Interior has signed an order that effectively grounds drones used by the department’s personnel except aircraft used for emergency incidents. The official action signed January 29 by Secretary David Bernhardt confirms the grounding first reported by the Wall Street Journal in October, 2019. The order calls it a “…temporary cessation of non-emergency drones while we ensure that cybersecurity, technology and domestic production concerns are adequately addressed.”

In May of last year the Department of Homeland Security warned “about data security issues involving the use of Chinese-made drones, particularly those made by DJI. DHS said it was concerned about drones’ capacity to observe and transmit prohibited infrastructure surveillance and conduct cyberattacks,” CNET reported.

The DOI has approximately 800 drones, many of which have some components manufactured in China, and 121 were made by DJI, one of the largest drone companies in the world.

In a statement following the announcement by the DOI, drone manufacturer DJI said they were “extremely disappointed” in the DOI’s “politically-motivated” decision. The statement further said:

DJI makes some of the industry’s most safe, secure, and trusted drone platforms for commercial operators. The security of our products designed specifically for the DOI and other U.S. government agencies have been independently tested and validated by U.S. cybersecurity consultants, U.S. federal agencies including the Department of Interior and the Department of Homeland Security, which proves today’s decision has nothing to do with security.

And from NPR:

…DJI makes special “government edition” versions of two of its drones specifically for the Interior Department: the Matrice 600 Pro and Mavic Pro. Both models are listed as being in the U.S. agency’s drone fleet.

The Chinese company announced last summer that the Interior Department had independently validated its “high-security” drones during a 15-month testing period. The department seemed to agree, releasing a 53-page report in July recommending it use the special DJI drones.

The aircraft include firmware and software that is tailored to meet the agency’s requirements, DJI said.

But in Bernhardt’s order, he noted that the president had signed a memorandum in June stating, “I hereby determine … the domestic production capability for small unmanned aerial systems is essential to the national defense.

Presumably drone manufacturers in the United States will bend over backwards to ensure that their systems have no components made in China.

Joshua Resnick, the CEO of a new company, Parallel Flight Technologies, that is building a heavy-duty drone initially targeted for use on wildland fires, told us in November that their drones will be American made and will conform to security specifications required by the DOI and Department of Homeland Security.

Parallel Flight Technologies drone
Prototype drone designed by Parallel Flight Technologies. PFT photo.

Two bills before Congress would restrict the procurement of drones. H.R. 4753 would prevent the U.S. from purchasing any drones or unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) from a nation identified as a national security threat. That would include China and Iran.

S. 2502 would require that no Federal department or agency may operate a commercial off-the-shelf drone or covered UAS manufactured or assembled by a covered foreign entity.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Bean and Rick. Typos or errors, report them HERE.