NASA and U.S. Forest Service Partner On Wildfire Imaging Mission

Aug 23, 2007

EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. - The West Coast of the United States has suffered extreme heat and drought this summer, leading to greater danger of wildfires. NASA and the U.S. Forest Service are testing aerospace agency-developed technologies to improve wildfire imaging and mapping capabilities.

From mid-August through September, NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center is conducting flights of a remotely piloted unmanned aircraft system to demonstrate the capabilities of its sophisticated new imaging and real-time communications equipment. The first flight of the series Aug. 16 captured images of California wildfires, including the Zaca Fire in Santa Barbara County. The aircraft carried instruments that collected data while flying more than 1,200 miles over a 10-hour period.

“The images from the flight demonstrated that this technology has a future in helping us fight wildland fires,” stated Zaca Incident Commander Mike Dietrich. “We could see little on the ground since the fire was generating a lot of smoke and burning in a very remote and inaccessible area. This technology captured images through the smoke and provided real time information on what the fire was doing,” said Dietrich.

"These tests are a ground-breaking effort to expand the use of unmanned aircraft systems in providing real-time images in an actual fire event," said Vincent Ambrosia, principal investigator of the Western States Fire Mission at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. "This is a prime example of NASA science and technology being used to solve real-world problems."

NASA's Ikhana, a Predator B remotely piloted aircraft adapted for civil missions, is flying its first operational effort during a series of four or five missions over the western states. Its sensor payload is collecting detailed thermal-infrared imagery of wildfires and is demonstrating the ability of unmanned aircraft systems to collect data continuously for 12 to 24 hours. The second flight in the series, a mission that will take Ikhana over Idaho and last an estimated 20 hours, is scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 23.

A satellite data link allows real-time transfer of fire imagery to virtually anywhere on Earth. Information from the sensor is transmitted to Ames where it is simultaneously available to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, as a Google Earth overlay and through NASA/Open Geospatial Consortium Web services.

"The success of these tests will help to refine the future direction of fire mapping for the wildfire management agencies," said Everett Hinkley, liaison and special projects group leader for the U.S. Forest Service, Salt Lake City.

The Autonomous Modular Scanner sensor, designed and built at Ames, is currently configured to observe fires and other high-temperature sources. The scanner can detect temperature differences from less than one-half degree to approximately 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. These temperature discrimination capabilities are important to improving fire mapping.

Scientists are also testing the Collaborative Decision Environment software, a new technology application originally developed by NASA for the Mars Exploration Rovers. This software is an interactive tool that allows sharing of vast amounts of information with members of the mission team for effective planning and acquisition of imagery over critical fire events.

Dryden completed a six-month process to obtain a Certificate of Authorization from the FAA allowing an unmanned aircraft to fly wildfire-sensing missions in the national air space of the western states.

"In the not-too-distant future, we'll look back at unmanned aircraft demonstrations like the Western States Fire Mission and realize that these flights paved the way for civilian uses of unmanned aircraft that benefit all of us," said Brent Cobleigh, Ikhana project manager at NASA Dryden.

The aircraft's name, Ikhana, is derived from a Native American Choctaw word that means intelligent, conscious or aware. NASA acquired the aircraft in November 2006 and intends to use it for Earth science and atmospheric science data collection missions.

Pilots from NASA and Ikhana manufacturer General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. operate the aircraft from a ground control station at Dryden, located at Edwards Air Force Base. NASA sponsorship is provided by the agency's Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C.

For more about Ikhana, visit:

For more information about NASA and agency programs, visit:

PHOTO EDITORS: Photos and illustrations to support this release are available for downloading at:

TELEVISION EDITORS: B-roll video and edited interview sound bites related to this release will air on NASA TV during the Video File news feeds on Aug. 22 and 23 on the agency's Media Channel (Program 103) at 12 p.m. EDT; with replays at 3, 6, and 10 p.m. and 12, 6, and 10 a.m. For digital downlink information for NASA TV's Media Channel (Program 103) on the Web, visit:

A modified version of Video File airs on the NASA TV Public Channel at 9 a.m., 5 p.m., 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. EDT. The Public Channel is also accessible on the Web at:

NASA Contacts:

Beth Hagenauer
NASA Dryden Flight Research Center
Phone: 661-276-7960

Jonas Dino
NASA Ames Research Center
Phone: 650-604-5612

About GA-ASI

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc., an affiliate of General Atomics, provides comprehensive solutions for military and commercial applications worldwide. The company’s Aircraft Systems Group is a leading designer and manufacturer of proven, reliable unmanned aircraft systems, including Predator, Predator B, and Sky Warrior ARS, and provides pilot training and support services for UAS field operations. The Aircraft Systems Group has been awarded the SDD phase of the U.S. Army’s ER/MP UAS Program and is currently developing the next-generation Sky Warrior ARS, featuring a heavy-fuel engine, triple-redundant avionics and increased armament capability. The Reconnaissance Systems Group designs, manufactures, and integrates the Lynx® SAR/GMTI radar onto both manned and unmanned aircraft and is also demonstrating the Magnum (Raptor View) high-resolution EO/IR sensor on UAS platforms. Leading the industry to new levels of performance, reliability, and operational capability since its establishment in 1993, the company has expanded the acceptance and application of UAS within the United States and among allied forces around the globe. GA-ASI is committed to providing immediately deployable, transformational technology for military operations, weapons systems and civil missions. For more information, please visit

Predator and Lynx are registered trademarks and Sky Warrior is a trademark of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc.

For more information contact:

Kimberly Kasitz
Public Relations Manager
General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc.

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