Image above: The flight track of NASA's Ikhana UAV in the Western States Fire Mission's third flight Sept. 7-8 is graphically portrayed on a Google Earth map of the western states.
The third in a series of wildfire imaging demonstration flights being conducted by NASA and the U.S. Forest Service took the Ikhana unmanned aircraft and its thermal-infrared imaging payload over 10 wildfires in southern and central California, Oregon and Washington Sept. 7 and 8. The 20-hour flight covered about 3,200 nautical miles, the longest yet in the series, and extended to within 50 miles of the Canadian border before heading back to NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in Southern California.
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's Ames Research Center.
The sensor is capable of peering through thick smoke and haze to record hot spots and the progression of wildfires over a lengthy period. The data is overlaid on Google Earth maps and downlinked in near-real time to the Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, and made available to fire incident commanders to assist them in allocating their fire-fighting resources.
The third flight left NASA Dryden at Edwards Air Force Base shortly after 6 p.m. Friday evening, and landed back at Edwards shortly after 2 p.m. Saturday. Multiple passes were made on four of the major fires and several fires were imaged under both night and day conditions. Five long imaging lines were run over the Zaca fire burn area in California's Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties, using a spectral band that is suitable for Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation (BAER).
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.
Mission managers report that they had excellent support from FAA Air Traffic Control throughout the mission, and have overcome a host of technical and operational issues to achieve the very challenging milestones that they established for the mission.
The first 10.5-hour flight in the series Aug. 16 captured images of California wildfires, including the huge Zaca Fire in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties, while a second 16-hour flight Aug. 30-31 imaged five wildfires burning in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
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