Dryden's Ikhana aircraft illustrated some if its capabilities when it flew fire-imaging missions in the summer of 2008.
NASA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service partnered to obtain imagery of the wildfires in response to requests from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services and the National Interagency Fire Center.
The Ikhana imaged almost 4,000 square miles from Santa Barbara north to the Oregon border during a flight on July 8. In as little as 10 minutes, the flights provided critical information about the location, size and terrain around the fires to commanders in the field.
The Ikhana team obtains data by using instrumentation developed at the Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif. They combined the sensor imagery with Internet-based mapping tools to provide fire commanders on the ground with information enabling them to develop strategies for fighting the blazes.
The Ikhana is a civil variant of the Predator B aircraft built by the San Diego-based General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. NASA dubbed the aircraft Ikhana (ee-KAH-nah), a Native American word from the Choctaw Nation meaning intelligent, conscious or aware.
The Ikhana also was used for research on the use of fiber optics wing shape sensors located along the top of the Ikhana wing surface. The sensors provide about 2,000 strain measurements in real time and show the shape of the aircraft's wings in flight. Fiber optic sensors offer weight reduction that has potential for reducing costs and improving fuel efficiency.