Specialized Pilot Training for new King Air Fire Mapping Technology
Forest fires terrify me. I used to take comfort in the fact that they were just “nature at work,” getting rid of the old and making way for the new. Now, I understand there is more to them. Thankfully, technology is developing new weapons in the fight against forest fires. With extra pilot training, pilots for the U.S. Forest Service may start to see an advantage.
We’re all familiar with the giant tanker planes with the red fire suppression formula expertly dumped at the correct location. We’ve seen videos of the water scooper airplanes as they land on the water, scoop up their load, takeoff again and head back to where the water is needed the most. But there’s another firefighting weapon that may not be as obvious or glamorous. It is, however, every bit as critical to the firefighting mission.
The Overwatch Imaging TK-9 Earthwatch Airborne Sensor is an infrared sensor that accurately maps wildfires. The technology is now available on Beechcraft King Air 260s and will be used by the U.S. Forest Service as they work to stay ahead of existing fires and detect new fires that are started by lightning or other means.
Knowing exactly where the fires are, how fast they spread, and the surrounding landscape characteristics are equally vital to dousing the fire with water. In the past, wildfire commanders were limited to airborne assistance during daylight hours, outside any areas of smoke or reduced visibility. However, infrared imaging technology is changing all of that.
The Earthwatch Airborne Sensor can see and map wildfire activity in the dark AND through heavy smoke. This gives the firefighters a clearer picture of what they are up against, regardless of conditions beyond their control. In addition, fires can burn just as ferociously at night, so giving the fire officials valuable information 24 hours a day will help them plan and modify their attack until they can defeat the fire.
The King Air is a competent aircraft for this mission and continues to demonstrate its competence through various tasks. Adding state-of-the-art infrared technology to the airplane has given the Forest Service a genuine advantage, especially with the early detection of fires, making them easier to control and extinguish before they destroy property or lives.
The pilots selected for this specialized type of flying need an entirely new level of pilot training. Not only will they need to fly the airplane under normal circumstances expertly, but they will also need to train for the optimal use of their onboard equipment, often in less-than-ideal flying conditions. All pilots involved in firefighting activity have my utmost respect for a job well done. Thank you for helping to save our forests, our towns, and even our lives.