General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc., a leading manufacturer of Remotely Piloted Aircraft, tactical reconnaissance radars, and electro-optic surveillance systems, announced Sept. 26 that a MQ-1 Predator® RPA successfully supported firefighters in their efforts to contain California’s Rim Fire, marking another instance of using Predator-class RPA for disaster relief in the United States.
Operated by the 163d Wing of the California Air National Guard, Predator launched from Victorville, Calif., on August 28 with the sole purpose of leveraging its Electro-optical/Infrared full-motion video imagery to assist local fire officials in fighting the Rim Fire, which ignited on August 17 and consumed over a quarter million acres in and around Yosemite National Park. Predator’s imagery identified the location of wildfire activity, the direction of the fires, and where it was controlled, along with verifying new fires created by lightning and floating embers.
“Predator’s life-saving capabilities aided in expanding the firefighters’ situational awareness, enabling them to fight the Rim Fire effectively and safely, while also uncovering critical safe routes for retreat,” said Frank W. Pace, president, Aircraft Systems Group, GA-ASI. “Predator enables Incident Commanders to view any area of a wildfire, day or night, and efficiently vector firefighting resources to protect lives and mitigate property losses.”
Predator imagery was shared with Incident Commanders and other fire managers on the ground in real-time, providing them with valuable time to employ the most effective and efficient measures to extinguish the blazes and protect firefighters. The aircraft’s ability to stay airborne for over a day offered a value-added capability over helicopters, which ground commanders had relied on previously but are required to refuel every two hours.
The use of MQ-1 was approved by the U.S. Secretary of Defense and is operated by Predator crew personnel assigned to the California ANG, under the command and control of Maj. Gen David Baldwin, the Adjutant General of the California National Guard. Other products of the Predator RPA family also have experience in assisting with disaster relief during wildfires in the Western United States, including NASA Predator B aircraft, Altair® and Ikhana.