Unmanned helicopters could soon battle US wildfires

The US Department of the Interior could begin using unmanned air vehicles to battle forest fire within a year based on a recent demonstration in which Kaman Aerospace and Lockheed Martin doused controlled burns with an optionally piloted K-MAX helicopter.

During a 5 November demonstration, an optionally manned version of the K-MAX completed eight firefighting scenarios at Griffiss International Airport in upstate New York designated by the Federal Aviation Administration as an unmanned air vehicle test site.

During a 4h window, the helicopter performed autonomous fire suppression operations including collecting and dropping 2,270kg (500gal) of water on controlled burns without a pilot in the cockpit, says Dan Spoor, Lockheed’s vice-president of aviation and unmanned systems.

“We also demonstrated the ability to build fire lines, which means sequentially dropping water in front of the fire to create a firebreak,” Spoor says. The aircraft was able to drop 659l or 10,900kg (24,000lb) in an hour, the equivalent to a single Boeing 747 load, says Greg Steiner, president of Kaman Aerospace. … (Read more)

Source: FlightGlobal.com

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