Press Release

Remotely Piloted NASA Plane to Fly Over Lick Fire to Aid Firefighters

By SpaceRef Editor
September 7, 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 the Lick wildfire near Gilroy, Calif., on Sept. 7, 2007.

The Ikhana is expected to take off from NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., at about 6 p.m. PDT, observe several wildfires while flying north, and then will fly above the Lick fire for 30 to 40 minutes beginning at about 8:30 p.m. PDT, according to NASA officials. After that, the plane will fly north through Oregon and Washington, almost to the Canadian border to observe 10 wildfires during the mission, officials added. NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., is planning to send several researchers to the Lick fire incident command center to help firefighters obtain aerial images.

“Imagery will be delivered to the incident command center in Gilroy, Calif. via the Web in real time from the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV),” said the project principal investigator, Vince Ambrosia of NASA Ames, who was flying to Boise, Idaho, to coordinate the 20-hour mission from the National Interagency Fire Center there. NASA Ames developed the Autonomous Modular Sensor-Wildfire to look through the smoke to see hot spots, flames and temperature differences. The data will be overlaid on maps and downlinked in near-real time to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, and made available to fire incident commanders to assist them in allocating their fire-fighting resources.

“We collect the images onboard Ikhana, and then the pictures are processed on the plane,” said Jim Brass, a member of the Ikhana mission management team at NASA Ames. Brass will travel to the Lick fire incident command center in Gilroy, Calif., to assist firefighters with fire mapping. “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,” he said.

The Sept. 7 flight will be the third in a series of wildfire imaging demonstration flights being conducted by NASA and the U.S. Forest Service. The flights are part of the Western States Fire Mission, which is demonstrating improved wildfire imaging and mapping capabilities of the sophisticated imaging sensor and real-time data communications equipment developed at NASA Ames. Pilots will fly the airplane remotely from NASA Dryden.

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.

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

SpaceRef staff editor.