UAVs to help Smokey Bear

Here’s another reason to avoid the TFRs over forest fires: Some of the aircraft up there may be unmanned.

The United States Forest Service, taking a cue from other federal agencies, is exploring the idea of using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to fight forest fires. The Forest Service is testing UAVs at a NASA facility in California. If the tests go well, UAVs could be in the air by next summer. Their job will be to fly continuously over the western United States to map forest fires.

The UAVs, equipped with infrared sensors, will fly at an altitude of approximately 1,000 feet over the ground. The UAVs, which have a wingspan of about 12 feet, will be equipped with GPS and an onboard computer that can be controlled by people on the ground.

UAVs can circle a fire zone for hours in conditions that would be too hazardous for piloted aircraft.

Last fall when Mount St. Helens was erupting in Washington, the federal government used a UAV known as the Silver Fox to keep tabs on the mountain. The UAV was equipped with infrared sensors and an optical zoom camera that allowed scientists to monitor the volcano from a safe distance.

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