City of San Diego announces trial of new high-tech firefighting aircraft

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — The City of San Diego announced Thursday it will be using aircraft with unique high tech capabilities to fight wildfires.  

In partnership with Poway-based General Atomics Aeronautical, the city will be conducting trials of the King Air 200, equipped with an optical infrared camera, synthetic aperture radar and advanced sensors, which can determine the location of wildfires and enhance the response by firefighters.

The imaging technology aboard the aircraft features a very large aperture video camera that can be moved in any direction and can obtain different kinds of wave lengths from the visible to the infrared.

“We can watch the fire and hot areas around the fire and areas that might become hot,” Linden Blue, CEO of General Atomics said. “We also carry a ground imaging radar which is able to look through smoke and clouds and is not affected by almost anything in the air except heavy, heavy rain,” he said.  

At a news conference and demonstration, a video was shown to reporters of the August 2016 wildfire, called the “Blue Cut” fire, which destroyed more than a hundred homes in San Bernardino County.

In the initial phase of the trial, the plane will be deployed in real life fire situations to see how the information gathered by sensors can be relayed to crews and fire managers on the ground. Information such as the location of the fire, and where it is moving can help the fire department decide where resources are most critically needed.   

General Atomics has used similar technology for the military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The San Diego Fire Rescue Department will be the first fire department in the nation to have access to cutting edge technology that will revolutionize the way we combat wildfires,” Mayor Kevin Faulconer said.  

In phase two of the trials, the plane will add more communications technology, serving as a cellular network in the air.

According to Travis Lively, a mission analyst at General Atomics, the enhanced communications will allow “push-to-talk” radios that normally would be limited to line of sight, to have the signals travel through the airborne network.

“There’s no longer a communication limitation,” Lively said.

General Atomics is paying for the cost of the trials. At this time, the aircraft are manned. However, the goal is to outfit unmanned aircraft with similar technology in the near  future, which will be enable the aircraft to fly over fires for as long as 40 hours.

Categories: Local San Diego News