Climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of western wildfires. Threats to people and infrastructure are growing with more population living in the wildland-urban interface. Blindly throwing more resources at the problem while doing things the same way is not a cost-effective solution. Extending manned and unmanned aerial firefighting to 24-hour operations will provide a major increase in firefighting effectiveness and efficiency. During the night, winds die down, temperatures decrease and humidity increases making night time a more productive time to fight fires from the air. But, existing airspace management processes are visual, manual, and not conducive to UAS participation. Hence, firefighting is largely restricted to manned, daytime, clear air mass visual operations. By applying existing and emerging technology in innovative ways, firefighting can be transitioned to round the clock operations with Unmanned Air Systems (UAS) picking up much of the workload.
UAS Traffic Management (UTM) concepts will be demonstrated including; UAS near real time fire map downlinked to a ground-based Common Operating Picture (COP), ground based UAS mission tasking, uplink of tasking, and precision guidance to the delivery point. Actual retardant drop parameters are downlinked for display on the COP for evaluation of mission effectiveness. The overhead stack of lead plane, tanker, and aerial supervision aircraft is eliminated. Night air operations are de-conflicted through the use of controlled 3D entry and exit corridors to eliminate the risk of mid-air collision. Eliminating the overhead stack at night will improve efficiency by allowing manned/unmanned tankers to drop on arrival vice waiting in the stack. Airspace is freed up for dedicated UAS missions. Near real-time fire mapping and asset tracking are considered key enablers to allow transfer of control of night of air operations to the ground.
The proposed research has multiple NASA applications:
• This research supports NASA’s UTM initiative to better integrate UAS functions inside the National Airspace (NAS) as well as firefighting Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR).
• The technology as envisioned directly supports fire science by providing data on fire intensity, local weather, retardant drop location/density that can be used to evaluate effectiveness.
• Additionally, this research directly applies to NASA’s new wildfire initiative.
• Federal agencies will benefit from to shift to night/24 hour operations with UAS picking up a major portion of the workload
• State/Local Emergency Services will benefit from a real time feed of fire mapping along with knowledge of where the firefighting effort is being concentrated.
• Utilities, Insurance and Media benefit with better information flow.