Press Release

NASA Remotely Piloted Plane to Help Battle California Wildfires

By SpaceRef Editor
October 24, 2007
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MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. – NASA pilots plan to remotely fly the Ikhana unmanned airplane and its instruments that can see through smoke over as many as seven of a dozen Southern California wildfires today, Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2007.

The Ikhana is expected to take off from NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., today about 9 a.m. PDT to observe wildfires while flying south for a ten-hour mission. Plans call for the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to first observe the fires near Lake Arrrowhead and fly as far south as San Diego County near the Mexican border.

Reporters are invited to view some of the images today from noon to 2 p.m. PDT on a large screen at the Exploration Center, just outside the main gate of NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. NASA Ames researcher Matthew Fladeland will answer reporters’ questions about how the imagery is being delivered to firefighters. NASA Ames developed the Autonomous Modular Sensor-Wildfire to look through the smoke to see hot spots, flames and temperature differences.

According to Jim Brass of NASA Ames, who flew to NASA Dryden to conduct the Ikhana’s mission, the fire images are taken from the Ikhana aircraft and are processed on board. Pilots will remotely fly the UAV from NASA Dryden.

“After processing, the images are transmitted through a communications satellite to NASA Ames where the imagery is placed on an Ames Web site. Then the imagery is combined with Google Earth maps,” Brass explained.

“We anticipated an event like the wildfire siege in Southern California occurring in October.” said the project principal investigator, Vince Ambrosia of NASA Ames. “When the call came on Monday from the National Interagency Fire Center, the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and colleagues within the Incident Command structure on the fires, we were ready to quickly deploy our teams and initiate a mission plan to over fly the fires and provide critical thermal infrared intelligence on the various wildfires,” Ambrosia added.

“We will have team members at various fire camps to assist in the integration of the data and imagery derived from the AMS-WILDFIRE sensor on the NASA Ikhana UAV, while other members of the team are in place at Dryden, NASA-Ames, Google and the National Interagency Fire Center,” Ambrosia said.

Last month, Ikhana flights were conducted as part of a series of wildfire imaging demonstration missions being conducted by NASA and the U.S. Forest Service. The flights were part of the Western States Fire Mission to demonstrate improved wildfire imaging and mapping capabilities of the sophisticated imaging sensor and real-time data communications equipment developed at NASA Ames. During the September missions, pilots flew the airplane for earlier missions remotely from NASA Dryden as well.

NASA’s Ikhana is a Predator B unmanned aircraft system built by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems and adapted for environmental science and technology research missions. Each flight is being coordinated with the FAA to allow the remotely piloted aircraft to fly within the national airspace while maintaining separation from other aircraft.

Also, a NASA satellite has captured remarkable imaging of the wildfires. To view and download images and for additional information, visit:

For additional images and more information about the wildfire demonstrations please visit:

The NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Exploration Center is located at the main gate, Moffett Field. To reach NASA Ames, take U.S. Highway 101 to the Moffett Field, NASA Parkway exit and drive east on Moffett Boulevard towards the main gate and bear right into the parking lot. The Exploration Center is located in the large white dome.

SpaceRef staff editor.