Fires and UAV's

I have been involved in wildland fire fighting for 14 years, 10 years in operations and the last 4 in administrative roles. By no means is 10 years any length of time considering the fine folks that have and are still dedicating their time. The US has just taken a step forward using UAV’s in fire research as well as helping keep fire fighters out of harm’s way, but then a abrupt step backwards. If you look at natural disasters in the US, we do not place individuals in the way of hurricanes, tornadoes, nor floods, but we do put them in front of wildfires. We may take mitigating effects to limit the damage of other natural disasters but none like wildland fire. Year in and year out we have lost on average about 14 people a year across all federal agencies (this doesn’t include local government agencies), and this has been a common “acceptable loss.” The new natural disaster of the 21st century is fire. We have seen it from US, Israel, Greece, Portugal, Brazil, and even Sweden, to name a few! This is not going to be something that is going to just up an vanish without a change in policy and public perception about the benefits of fire on the landscape. This is not common knowledge just known by Aboriginal or Native tribes, but it is a practice that most Aboriginal and native individuals knew benefited the landscape.

I mentioned earlier about the US Federal Agency taking a step forward, then an abrupt step backward. I will elaborate on that a bit more here. Until recently about 2 months ago the Department of Interior had been allowed to use “DJI Enterprise” products because supposedly these weren’t transmitting data back to China. That abruptly ended in December when the DOI (Depratment of Interior) which controls the BLM ( Bureau of Land Management) stopped all use of DJI drones due to national security “issues”, this later bled over to their other drones in the fleet, most of which are 3DR Solo’s and firefly 6’s, and a few parrot anafi’s. I have not seen the recent MOU regarding UAS use in the federal government. There is also a bill in congress that will bar any DJI UAV’s from any federal use and federal contracting.Why do I even mention this, well the fact that I can easily get a new m600 or m100 enterprise drone shipped to the nearest shipping port or I can also get parts readily available off the shelf when we needed them was a great benefit to the boutique UAV’s that many offer. And we have crashed quite a few, barometers seem to not really like flames licking the bottom of the UAV. If someone can show me a workhorse ardcopter qaud that can carry a 20 MP and/or a decent thermal radiometric camera and fly for 40 minutes and also stand up to a great deal of movement across the US from one week to another, operate in temps from -10c to 45c and have readily available parts that don’t cost a lot and are consistently available and not be in a constant beta test, I’d love to buy it!

Great banning DJI opens the door for the ardu-community to fill that gap at least in the US. WHOA not so fast have you read the new proposed rule about “remote ID?” If you haven’t please read it here if you are located in the US or ever think you’d like to operate in the US. it’s a lot to read and very ambiguous in its writing, seem’s common for laws!

If you like it or dislike it please let them know what you like or dislike in the law. A quick read across the comments will give you a great boiler plate template for a copy and paste to let the FAA know how you feel, formal comment is open until March 2, 2020 2359EST (1159PM EST)

My last rant I guess you can call it that now. What typesof UAV technology have you folks seen or know that has been deployed on some of the bushfires. Is the majority of it recon/intelligence, or have you heard of folks using it for SA (situational awareness) eyes in the sky type of thing?

Please let me know what UAV/UGV’s you have heard or you have used on the fireline that has benefited the overall strategy or SA.

Hi Matt

Maybe this can help you. These drones are based on ardupilot firmware, they can carry RGB, thermal and multispectral cameras. And they can fly for 40 minutes.

Take a look at the website:

They also make customized projects if needed.

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Yes, that’s right, fixed zenithal mount, with passive damping and fixed forward tilt compensation. In my opinion, for photogrammetric tasks a fixed mount offers more advantages than an active gimbal. Not mounting a gimbal for a camera of these dimensions results in a smaller, lighter drone with more autonomy and less complexity as well as being cost competitive.

Normally when I perform photogrammetric missions with this fixed mount, I never use more than 75% overlat and sidelap, achieving very good results. Also, to say that this is using RGB, using thermal cameras you must be more careful with the overlap.

If you want to see real results, on the Helix-North website you have both photos taken with the drone and the fixed mount ready to be processed. And also, the maps already processed.


Matt can’t help you with smaller drones like you describe but we are about to release our production Freespace Callisto 50 which is a very robust large industrial modular multirotor system with up to 25kg (55lbs) of payload capacity which is BVLOS capable & can be configured for just about any mission.

It’s not what you are looking for but something to be aware of for doing more physical work or larger sensor payloads.

Freespace Callisto Industrial Multirole Modular Multirotor System

But he is not doing photogrammetry work so a fixed camera is useless or not ideal.

Is Autel acceptable? Is it on a banned list? They have a new supposed 8k drone with Mavic form factor and say they have a Flir option.

May be worth a look. It will be very hard to find an open source small Multi rotor platform with long range HD video at an affordable price — DJI killed off the competition in that category a while ago.

My opinion on DJI being banned from US Government use is “good riddance”. This is not unusual and there are many many companies and products on the do-not-buy lists for the same reasons. There is significant ongoing risk of data spills and espionage with any product owned by and manufactured by a company that is beholden to the Chinese government. It’s what they do.

I’m disappointed they arbitrarily grounded the fleet of Solos any anything else that has any Chinese components in it. That’s not based on any risk analysis and is purely knee jerk.

The last I’d spoken to someone from DOI (many months ago), they had a large of fleet of Solos operating at wildfires. They had them equipped with ADS-B, operating along side manned aircraft. But I expect that to dwindle even without these rules since they’re eventually going to run out of batteries. And may also get tired of buying Solex since the 3DR app doesn’t work anymore on all the modern android and iOS versions. Even if they could use Open Solo, the sun would probably be setting on them soon anyway.

People were doubtful when the first smokejumpers landed on the scene, but it has transformed firefighting. Drones would seem to be able to eliminate a lot of the risks for humans. I will not be surprised when again, there is a revolution in fighting forest fires from the air.


We build a VTOL aircraft that is well suited for fire work and manufactured almost entirely in the US.
Our preferred payloads are a Lucint 32 for mapping or a Trillium HD25 for surveillance. Flight time is 5 to 6 hours. We are also working on a larger variant to carry a Trillium HD45 and fly for 7 to 8 hours. Would be interested to hear what you think.


All the development on SuperVolo is complete. We’re finishing up the first 5 now then rolling directly into production of 10 more. Got to show some pics. (I’m really proud of it)