Insitu demonstrates wildfire-fighting UAV

Departments - Up and Soaring

Air Force UAS helps combat California wildfires; Nomad tested on USS Coronado; Vanilla Aircraft’s VA001 completes five-day flight.

December 4, 2017

ScanEagle poised for launch at the Eagle Creek, Oregon fire.

Boeing subsidiary Insitu deployed its INEXA Solutions aerial remote sensing teams to aid firefighters in suppressing the Eagle Creek fire in Oregon. Coordinating with the Oregon Department of Forestry and others, Insitu’s ScanEagle UAV produced near real-time data that increased firefighters’ situational awareness and safety, supporting planning and resource allocation. Electro-optical (EO) video for daylight and infrared (IR) video for nighttime and smoke-obscured flights allowed the ScanEagle to survey fire lines that had spread to nearly 49,000 acres throughout the Columbia River Gorge.

Images provided data for geographic information system (GIS) specialists to analyze using Esri’s ArcGIS software.

Insitu produced near real-time georeferenced spatial data – maps tied to specific known locations – so firefighters could locate fire lines and hotspots, and obtain video and still images of;

An MQ-9 Reaper assigned to the California Air National Guard
Credit: California Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Neil Ballecer

Air Force UAS helps combat California wildfires

In response to wildfires raging across Northern California’s wine country in October, the California Air National Guard’s 163rd Attack Wing, based 60 miles east of Los Angeles, received Defense Department and Federal Aviation Administration approval to operate MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft.

Two Reapers, swapping every 12 hours, covered six different fires with electrical, optical, and infrared sensors, mapping the disaster areas.

“Firefighters want to know the perimeter of the fire so they could compare how it’s spread since the last time they checked,” says Air Force Maj. Jason Flowers, chief of wing plans.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency also requested geo-location of fire-ravaged and unscathed structures for damage assessments crucial to properly funding the disaster recovery. The FEMA mission used the Reapers’ synthetic aperture radar.

Nomad launch

Nomad tested on USS Coronado

In August, researchers from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) successfully completed testing Nomad – a low-cost rotary wing vehicle in which researchers can test remote control, autonomous flight control, station keeping, and safe coordinated flight supporting multiple payloads – from the USS Coronado (LCS 4). The recent test demonstrated Nomad’s upgraded launch and control capabilities as well as a new recovery capability by launching multiple vehicles in quick succession, conducting formation flying operations, and recovering all vehicles sequentially aboard the U.S. Navy ship.

Co-principal investigator Steve Tayman, senior aerospace engineer with NRL’s Vehicle Research Section (VRS), says, “The unique form factor provides compact, lightweight storage in an integrated launch tube, and allows for storage in a ready-to-use condition for quick reaction deployment.”

The Nomad project is funded by the Office of Naval Research.

Vanilla Aircraft’s VA001 completes five-day flight

On Oct. 23, 2017, Vanilla Aircraft’s VA001 touched down at NASA Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia, successfully completing a 5-day, 1-hour, 24-minute flight that traversed more than 7,000 miles – the longest unmanned internal combustion-powered flight. The aircraft executed a pilot-controlled takeoff, was switched to autopilot control, and orbited above Wallops Island’s Virginia Space UAS runway at 5,000ft in a 2-mile orbit, before making an autonomous landing with three days of fuel on board. The 36ft wingspan, diesel-powered aircraft carried payloads including a NASA-furnished multispectral imager and a Defense Department-furnished sensor and radio. The flight was completed with funding from the Office of Naval Research.

Designed, built, and operated by a five-person startup in Falls Church, Virginia, the VA001 unmanned aircraft carries up to 1.1ft3 of payload weighing up to 30 lb, and provides 800W of power. It’s built to operate for up to 10 days at altitudes up to 15,000ft with a dash speed of 75kts and loiter speed of 55kts. The company plans to begin production in the coming months, and is open to teaming with payload providers.;

Flight crew with the airplane, left to right: Shannon Cardin, Daryl Perkins, Phillip Barnes, Jeremy Novara, Daniel Hatfield, Kyle Cantrell, ND Neil Boertlein.
Credit: NASA/Terry Zaperach