Drone damaged during landing after surveilling fire

On August 7, 2018 while attempting a landing at the end of a mission on the Graves Fire in Oregon, an Insitu ScanEagle X200 unmanned aircraft came in too low resulting in a low capture on the suspended rope. The payload and the left wing sustained visible damage.

According to the preliminary report, the flight crew believes the failure of the aircraft to correct the errant glide path was caused by turbulence generated by terrain at the recovery site.

After the incident the ground control software was upgraded to improve the glide path tracking. In addition, the site lead reemphasized the decision making process for initiating a timely go-around.

An article by Gareth Corfield in The Register describes how a newer model of the aircraft, an Insitu ScanEagle3, is recovered after a mission:

“Insitu craft are recovered from the air by the simple process of commanding them to fly at a rope suspended from a crane-type contraption fitted with a hydraulic damper system;

Insitu drone capture system
Photo by Insitu on Instagram of the recovery system as used on the Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge in September, 2017.

the aircraft’s swept wings are both fitted with titanium carabiners at their tips that grip the rope tightly, suspending the Scaneagle in mid-air until the ground crew lowers it. An onboard accelerometer senses the violent yaw when the wing is caught by the rope (the aircraft cartwheels sideways when it hits) and cuts the engine. The process was described as “very dynamic” by Insitu personnel, an assessment El Reg agreed with.

“The unmanned aircraft flies itself autonomously to the point where it returns back to its Skyhook (Insitu’s trade name for the crane-rope capture affair) using differential GPS with the ground beacon being placed under the rope. All human involvement is limited to pressing the required buttons to start the landing sequence and getting the UAV off the rope afterwards. Though the craft can be flown on barometric altitude (as manned aircraft typically use), it is launched and recovered on GPS altitude. We were told that the UAV is programmed to approach the rope at a height of 33 feet with a two-foot lateral offset to increase the chances of a wing meeting the rope rather than the nose.”

Drone used to ignite burnout operations on Klondike Fire in Oregon

drone ignite prescribed fire
File photo of drone being used for the first time to ignite a prescribed fire at Homestead National Monument, April 22, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

April 22, 2016 was the first time that a drone, or Unmanned Aerial System, was used to intentionally ignite a managed fire. The University of Nebraska tested a system that had been under development, using it to ignite a portion of a prescribed fire at Homestead National Monument west of Beatrice, Nebraska. As a proof of concept, it was considered a success. The drone dropped plastic spheres which burst into flame about half a minute after landing on the ground, similar to the ones dropped by helicopters for aerial ignition on large wildfires and prescribed fires.

Using the technology developed by the University of Nebraska, drones are being used to help firefighters conduct firing operations on the Klondike Fire about 25 miles southwest of Grants Pass, Oregon.

Daily updates released by the incident management team between August 8 and 13, 2018 documented the use of the drones for lighting strategic fires to even out and increase the depth of burned areas adjacent to fire lines in difficult terrain where firefighter safety could be compromised. Firefighters say drone technology  used on the Klondike Fire has enabled aerial observation and firing operations to continue during smoky conditions, which aids fire containment and completion of contingency lines.

The video below from the Mail Tribune has an interview with Steve Stroud, fleet manager with the Office of Aviation Services, explaining how the aircraft is used. An article at the site has more information.

The next video was filmed in 2016 at the first test of a drone to ignite a prescribed fire.

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

drone nebraska ignite prescribed fire
File photo of the drone used at the 2016 test at Homestead National Monument. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

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

Firefighting aircraft on the Green Top Mountain Fire

Tim Crippin sent us these photos he took on the Green Top Mountain Fire on July 15th near Eagle Point, Oregon about 15 miles northeast of Medford. Started July 15 by lightning, it had burned about 120 acres by July 16.

Thanks Tim!

air tanker Green Top Mountain Fire helicopter Green Top Mountain Fire air tanker Green Top Mountain Fire

helicopter Green Top Mountain Fire

Another drone ignites wildfire in Oregon

Above: Photo by Fire Marshall Jeffrey Pricher

We just found out about another drone that started a wildfire in Oregon. This time time it happened in Scappoose about 25 miles northwest of Portland. According to a press release from the Scappoose Fire District, the drone crashed June 26 in FAA restricted airspace near Scappoose Industrial Airpark. It landed in dry grass and sparked a fire.

After trying unsuccessfully to stomp the fire out, the operators called 911. It burned about a quarter acre before firefighters put it out.

The operators were issued a verbal warning for using the aircraft in restricted airspace. FAA regulations require recreational drone operators to give notice for flights within five miles of an airport to both the airport operator and air traffic control tower, if the airport has a tower. However, recreational operations are not permitted in Class B airspace around most major airports without specific air traffic permission and coordination.

drone starts wildfire Oregon
Photo by Fire Marshall Jeffrey Pricher

The Fire Marshall for the Fire District, Jeffrey Pricher, told us that as the drone was flying, a malfunction occurred. The aircraft went out of control and crashed. As for the exact cause of the ignition of the fire, he said that after an initial examination the battery looked intact. So he is considering something related to one of the electric motors, but the investigation is still ongoing. Normally they operate at about 100 degrees, he said, but if there was an anomaly or an object was impinging on one of the moving parts, friction could cause an elevated temperature and failure of the motor.

Mr. Pricher said this was a racing drone, which normally do not have legs, landing gear, or anything that would keep the motors elevated off the ground more than a fraction of an inch when it lands upright. If it did have an overheated motor, landing (or crashing) in a grassy field could put the motor in close contact with flammable vegetation.

On July 12 KEZI reported on a drone battery that caused a small fire in a residence a couple of months ago in Eugene, Oregon. The owner of a Propel X-5 drone had just charged the battery for 15 minutes:

[Tina] Thomas said they unplugged the battery and then noticed it was smoking. That’s when the trouble began.

“Then it just shot out. I mean it was like a missile,” Thomas said.

She said the battery shot right into the carpet and lit it on fire, and then the charger port shot into the dog bed and lit that on fire.

They put out the fire but had to replace the carpet. And thankfully, the dog was not in its bed at the time.

On July 10 a racing drone crashed when a dog jumped on the person flying it near Springfield, causing him to drop the controller. The small aircraft spun out of control, crashed, and as the video kept recording, started grass on fire within three seconds. It burned about two acres before firefighters put it out.

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

In Oregon, drone crashes, starts wildfire

Above: The burned drone. Photo by Cameron Austin-Connolly

(Originally published on Wildfire Today July 11, 2018)

A small drone started a vegetation fire when it crashed near Springfield, Oregon this week. On July 10 Cameron Austin-Connolly was flying his drone over a field when a large unleashed dog left its owner, ran and jumped on him. The impact knocked the controller out of his hands and the drone immediately went out of control and crashed. As you can see in the video (that Mr. Austin-Connolly gave us permission to use) within about three seconds the still operating camera recorded flames.

You can also see two dogs running at Mr. Austin-Connolly.

He wrote on his Facebook page:

My drone crashes and when I go to look for it I saw smoke and flames so I called 911. Springfield FD quickly showed up and put out the flames. They even returned my drone and gopro. The Fire Marshall said that was their first drone fire.

In case you’re wondering about the reaction of the dogs’ owner, Mr. Austin-Connolly said he just kept walking and didn’t say anything.

Mr. Austin-Connolly told us, “it is a hand built first person view drone, or FPV done. Some people also call them racing drones since they are fast.”

He said it was using a lithium polymer, or “lipo”, battery.

Most small consumer-sized drones use lithium ion batteries, while racing drones generally operate with lithium polymer batteries.

The battery that was in the drone. The label says: “Infinity, 1300 MAH, race spec”. Photo by Cameron Austin-Connolly

In March we wrote about the crash of a drone that started a 335-acre fire on the Coconino National Forest in Northern Arizona. Few details about that drone were available, except that it was about 16″ x 16″.  The comments by our readers developed a great deal of information about rechargeable batteries and the possibility of them catching fire. We also learned about several other drone crashes that started fires.

In May we published an article about the fact that electric vehicles with lithium-ion batteries present a complex and hazardous situation for firefighters responding to a vehicle accident.

The fact is, there are many examples of both lithium ion and lithium polymer batteries catching fire. There is no doubt that when a lithium ion battery is subject to an impact, a short circuit can occur in one or more of the cells, creating heat which may ignite the chemicals inside the battery. This can spread to the adjoining cells and lead to the condition known as “thermal runaway” in which the fire escalates. If as in a vehicle, there are thousands of batteries, it can be extremely difficult to extinguish the blaze. And worse, it can reignite days or weeks later.

When compact fluorescent light bulbs were introduced they saved energy but were slow to get fully bright and many people thought the color of the light was unpleasant. I knew then that it was immature lighting technology. There were going to be better options. Now LED bulbs save even more energy, come in various light temperatures (colors), and illuminate at near full brightness immediately. For now, they are expensive, but will still pay for themselves in three to five years.

Lithium ion and lithium polymer batteries are the fluorescent bulbs of battery technology. They are too heavy, don’t hold enough power, and they too often catch fire. No one wants to be on an airplane when flames erupt from an e-cigarette, cell phone, wireless headphones, or laptop computer, all of which can ignite even when turned off.

So until that next major step in battery technology occurs, what do we do about drones? Is the risk so low that we should not be concerned? When land managers enact fire restrictions during periods of high wildfire danger, do we also prohibit the use of drones? Should drones ever be allowed over vegetation in a fire-prone environment during wildfire season? And what about the hundreds of drones owned and operated by the Department of the Interior that flew 5,000 missions last year? Not all are battery operated, but some are.

We thank Mr. Austin-Connolly for providing the information, photos, and the video. When we asked, he said, “If my experience can be helpful I’m all for it.”

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

Air Tanker 101 drops on the Boxcar Fire

I hope no one was under that drop (the video on the left) by an MD-87 on the Boxcar Fire near Maupin, Oregon.

In case the video on the left does not work, try it a this link. But below is a screen grab:

MD-87 Drop
T-101, and MD-87, make a low drop on the Boxcar Fire near Maupin, Oregon, June, 2018. By Katie Hemphill-Pearcy.

Five MD-87’s at Madras

Tom Brown found five Erickson Aero Tanker MD-87’s at Madras, Oregon on May 5 and was able to grab this photo of all of them.

Thanks Tom!

In June, 2016 I also saw five of Erickson’s MD-87’s at Madras. They were parked in single file and my 24mm lens was not wide enough to get them all. The one missing in the photo below also had “Spanair” on the side.

Erickson bought at least seven MD-87’s. They began flying two of them as air tankers in 2014.

MD-87 air tankers Madras oregon
MD-87’s at Madras, Oregon June 13, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

 

 

Oregon has 27 exclusive use aircraft on firefighting contracts this year

The Oregon Department of Forestry will have a greater emphasis this year on infrared mapping and the use of drones, and, has the 747 on a CWN contract.

Above: Whitewater Fire, 6 miles east of Idanha, Oregon. August 19, 2017. Inciweb photo.

With smoke from the 2017 wildfires still fresh in the minds of Oregonians, the Oregon Department of Forestry is already gearing up for this summer’s wildfires.

The agency’s Interim Fire Operations Manager Blake Ellis said a lot of preparation goes on behind the scenes each winter and spring. “We work to ensure firefighters are equipped and ready to respond quickly and effectively to wildfires all year, with a special emphasis on being staffed and ready for the drier months,” said Ellis. ” We essentially double our firefighting forces going into the summer, when wildfire risk is highest.”

Readiness activities include:

  • Contracts and agreements for firefighting equipment, aircraft and other resources have been signed
  • A new policy governing use of remotely piloted aerial vehicles (also known as drones or UAVs) has been adopted. These systems will support fire protection and natural resource management.
  • Hiring of seasonal firefighters is underway. New firefighters will attend training at ODF and interagency fire schools across the state in June.
  • Permanent and returning firefighters will take fire line refresher training over the next two months.
  • Hundreds of miles of fire hose have been cleaned and rolled, ready for use statewide.

Last year ODF had great success testing infrared technology. Carried on aerial vehicles, the equipment was able to see through heavy smoke on two Oregon wildfires – Horse Prairie and Eagle Creek. These systems provide sharp images and real-time fire mapping for fire managers, boosting safety and tactical planning. This year ODF is incorporating these technologies into its toolkit.

ODF’s Aviation Manager Neal Laugle said the increasing use of various types of aircraft in recent years highlights the importance of keeping up with new technology to achieve the agency’s mission. “From detection to fire mapping and active wildfire suppression, aircraft continue to play a critical role in the fight to save lives, resources and property,” said Laugle.

In 2017 contracted aircraft flew 1,477 hours on firefighting missions for ODF, more than 100 hours above average, he said. For 2018 the agency has contracted the same number of aircraft as last year.

“We have 27 aircraft based across the state, including helicopters, fixed-wing detection planes, single-engine air tankers and a large airtanker, all of which we’ve secured for our exclusive use. We also have call-when needed agreements with a number of companies for additional firefighting aircraft. Among these agreements is one for the use of a 747 modified to carry 19,000 gallons of retardant should the situation warrant.”

ODF will continue to have access to aviation resources from other states and federal agencies upon request.

“Uncontrolled fires can be devastating. Our relationships with our partners are invaluable to support prevention and suppression efforts statewide,” said Ellis.