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NASA aerial drone collects disaster data.

A joint NASA-U.S. Forest Service program demonstrated the value of using an aerial drone to respond to disaster scenarios this summer when it flew a series of long-duration flights to map wildfires that plagued the western states.

Unmanned aerial vehicles saw some action gathering images in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2006. UAV proponents, who are pushing the Federal Aviation Administration to approve more domestic applications for the technology, have touted their benefits for disaster response.

NASA's Ikhana, a Predator B manufactured by General Atomics, and adapted for civil missions, flew its first operational missions from mid-August through September from Dryden Flight Research Center, Calif.

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The first flight Aug. 16 captured images of California wildfires, including the Zaca Fire in Santa Barbara County. The aircraft's instruments collected data while flying more than 1,200 miles over a 10-hour period.

"The images from the flight demonstrated that this technology has a future in helping us fight wildland fires," said Zaca incident commander Mike Dietrich in a statement. "We could see little on the ground since the fire was generating a lot of smoke and burning in a very remote and inaccessible area. This technology captured images through the smoke and provided real time information on what the fire was doing," he added.

Its sensor payload collected thermal-infrared imagery of wildfires and demonstrated the ability of unmanned aircraft systems to collect data continuously and relay information back in real time to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. NASA planned on conducting similar missions lasting as long as 20 hours.

NASA's autonomous modular scanner sensor is currently configured to observe fires and other high-temperature sources. The scanner can detect temperature differences from less than one-half degree to approximately 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. These temperature discrimination capabilities are important to improving fire mapping, NASA said.

While the demonstrations were called a technical success, the FAA took six months to grant licenses for the five flights.

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Title Annotation:SECURITY BEAT: Homeland Defense Briefs
Comment:NASA aerial drone collects disaster data.(SECURITY BEAT: Homeland Defense Briefs)
Author:Magnuson, Stew
Publication:National Defense
Date:Oct 1, 2007
Words:334
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