Collaboration highlighted at Aerial Firefighting North America 2022 conference

Avatar for Brent BundyBy Brent Bundy | April 7, 2022

Estimated reading time 13 minutes, 40 seconds.

Over 300 aerial firefighters and those who work with the sector attended the Aerial Firefighting North America 2022 conference, with collaboration the key theme as many now face a year-round fire season.

The conference brought over 300 industry members together over two days in San Diego, California. Brent Bundy Photo
The conference brought over 300 industry members together for two days in San Diego, California. Brent Bundy Photo

The two-day conference, held March 22 and 23 at the Town and Country Resort in San Diego, California, featured a packed seminar program led by a variety of subject matter experts, as well 48 exhibitors. Attendees came from around the world.

Royal Navy Rear Admiral Terry Loughran (ret), chairman of show organizer Tangent Link, emceed the conference events. City of San Diego Fire Chief Colin Stowell kicked things off with the welcome address, followed by a keynote presented by Cal Fire Director Joe Tyler.

Tyler introduced a theme that would be repeated by many of the speakers: “This cannot be done alone. Cooperation is the key.”

Cal Fire Director Joe Tyler provided the keynote address at the conference. Brent Bundy Photo
Cal Fire Director Joe Tyler provided the keynote address at the conference. Brent Bundy Photo

Throughout each day, leaders in their respective fields covered topics including future firefighting strategies, the effects of global warming on aerial firefighting, resource management, military integration, retardant advancements, and new technological tools for rotorcraft, fixed-wing, and unmanned platforms.

Hilary Franz, Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands, explained the difficulties in obtaining funding for wildfire fighting. Through aggressive campaigning, she took her state’s budget for aerial firefighting from nothing to $120 million. She said the support allowed the state’s firefighters to stop 98 percent of 2021’s 1,872 fires during initial attack. Echoing the week’s theme, she emphasized that partnership is key.

Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services described the massive impact the changing climate is having on wildfires. “Since 2017, over 50,000 homes have been destroyed at a value of more than $6.4 billion,” he said. “Three keys will help us battle this: prediction, warning, and placement of resources.”

The exponential increase in demand for pilots was discussed during an afternoon panel with several experts, including Mike Lynn (who was later presented with the Walt Darran Award for aerial firefighting for his 50-year aviation career, 44 years of which have been in aerial firefighting).

Nighttime operations were focused on during sessions by Orange County Fire Authority Chief Brian Fennessy.

Several advanced operations discussions analyzed the advantages of various approaches to battling fires, including the use of unmanned systems, diverse helicopters, and large fixed-wing aircraft.

“This conference is a great opportunity to speak with those who play key roles in aerial firefighting efforts across the globe,” Cal Fire Director Tyler told ***Vertical***.

Regarding the organization’s approach to this year’s fire season, he said it will be based on the severity of the past few years.

“Starting in June, we expect heavy activity, especially in the north from the Sacramento Valley over to the coast, then continuing down to San Diego,” said Tyler. “[Last year] was significant and we predict that 2022 will be similar.”

New offerings

While better planning, new aircraft, and more boots on the ground certainly help mitigate the destructive capabilities of wildfires seen recently, improvements to existing products and upgrades to technology play a key role in the success of this year-round battle. Here are some of the offerings on display at the conference.

Drone Amplified Ignis

Founded by two University of Nebraska-Lincoln faculty, Drone Amplified set out with the goal of using unmanned aerial systems for wildfire management. They have developed a method of setting prescribed burns, mapping wildfires, and transmitting data in real-time.

The Ignis system allows a UAV to be used for prescribed burns. Brent Bundy Photo
The Ignis system allows a UAV to be used for prescribed burns. Brent Bundy Photo

Prescribed burns are a highly effective way to remove a fire’s fuel (brush, leaves, and other flammable items) in advance of a wildfire.

“Helicopters are a great method for controlled burns, but aircraft and pilots aren’t always available. In addition, our system can access locations that a helicopter may not be able to get to,” said Carrick Detweiler, Drone Amplified’s co-founder and CEO.

IGNIS is equipped with a hopper that contains several small spheres filled with potassium permanganate. The UAS is directed to a location via a proprietary app, and then drops the spheres. Prior to release, they are injected with antifreeze, which reacts to ignite a fire 30 to 60 seconds after mixing. “It’s an incredibly safe and effective method of managing these burns,” said Detweiler.

The IGNIS system is currently in use by the U.S. Forrest Service, Cal Fire and others.

Astronics Max-Viz EVS

The Max-Viz 2300 is a dual-sensor enhanced vision system (EVS) that blends long-wave infrared (LWIR) and visible light to allow the user to see clearly through haze, smoke, and light fog. “These capabilities make it ideal for the firefighting role,” said Dale Farr, manager of sales and business development.

The Max-Viz 2300 projects the view in front onto a head up display (show in green in the center). Brent Bundy Photo
The Max-Viz 2300 projects the view in front onto a head up display (show in green in the center). Brent Bundy Photo

This allows for a higher degree of safety for pilots and crewmembers during all phases of flight.

Available for most aircraft, the image signal is compatible with leading multifunction displays and electronic flight bags.

The Max-Viz 2400 is an upcoming surface-mounted version, expected in early 2023.

Krattworks fire detection system

Unmanned systems have made their way into nearly every field in the aviation industry, including firefighting. They are traditionally used for aerial surveillance and mapping, but Krattworks has added a new application: an autonomous system that delivers a nearly hands-off approach to fire detection.

The Krattworks system uses AI to detect and report on fires. Brent Bundy Photo
The Krattworks system uses AI to detect and report on fires. Brent Bundy Photo

Adaptable to a variety of drones, the Krattworks module can detect and report on fires, without human intervention, through AI. The information can then be transmitted anywhere on the planet, via cellular connectivity. Chief engineer Kristjan Möller conducted a live demonstration, during which he successfully monitored the launch, flight, and landing of a UAS that was based in Estonia, 10 time zones away.

Recoil Tsunami fire suppression tanks

Established in 2008, Recoil has developed its reputation manufacturing wildfire suppression tanks, but has now added carbon fiber aerostructures and ballistic tolerant auxiliary fuel tanks to its product range.

The Recoil Tsunami T1000-I can drop its load in less than five seconds. Brent Bundy Photo
The Recoil Tsunami T1000-I can drop its load in less than five seconds. Brent Bundy Photo

At the conference, Recoil displayed the Tsunami T000-I. The internal composite tank can be filled in 35 to 40 seconds, while the entire contents can be dropped in less than five seconds.

The package weighs in at 650 lb. and incorporates a 30-Us gallon foam tank. It is available for various medium and heavy rotorcraft, including the Airbus H225, Leonardo AW189K, and Sikorsky S-92. Recoil also offers the Tsunami T1000-E, a carbon fiber, 1,000-US gallon belly-mounted tank with similar performance.

Paraclete Airlink wireless headset

For nearly a decade, Paraclete Aviation Life Support has been designing and building aviation helmets with an emphasis on comfort and safety, using lightweight materials and innovative technologies.

The headset includes a portable base unit with wireless communication to other portable units. Brent Bundy Photo
The headset includes a portable base unit with wireless communication to other portable units. Brent Bundy Photo

The company recently teamed up with aviation communications manufacturer Global-Sys to offer the Airlink 3085IA wireless headset.

“While we continue to enhance the value of our helmet product line, we look for those relationships that support our core tenets: comfort, innovation, and safety,” said Paraclete CEO and founder Scott Hedges. “We found that value with Global-Sys and the expanding wireless communications technology, [which was] delivering an asset that crews need to ensure efficient operations.”

The system combines a portable base unit that is plugged into the aircraft, with wireless communication to other portable units. Those battery-powered modules can last 12 hours on a charge and maintain contact up to 1,000 feet from the base unit. Reconfiguration for numerous aircraft and missions can be completed in under five minutes, Paraclete said.

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