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NASA Drone Could Help Detect Wildfires in Wildlife Refuge

Federal officials say drones are safer and cheaper than sending manned aircraft up to look for fires after thunderstorms and lightning strikes.
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A camera-equipped lightweight drone could soon be helping federal officials spot forest fires in the nearly 112,000-acre Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge along the Virginia-North Carolina border. NASA’s Langley Research Center and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have signed a one-year agreement to test small unmanned drones for the detection of brush and forest fires. NASA Langley got the drones for free from the U.S. Army and equipped them with infrared and visual cameras.

According to Mike Logan, the research lead at NASA Langley, an unmanned aerial vehicle costs much less to operate than a human piloted aircraft and can be used much more frequently and sooner to try to spot fires, like right after a thunderstorm passes. Actual flights over the swamp should begin before the end of the year. That will give operators enough experience to be proficient by the start of next fire season in the spring. It's not the first time drones have been used to help fight forest fires. For example, a Predator drone was used to provide aerial views of the massive Rim fire around Yosemite National Park in the summer of 2013.


— James Eng