Firebird 2001 Fire Fighting Management Support System (IFFN No. 17 – July 1997)


Firebird 2001 Fire Fighting ManagementSupport System

(IFFN No. 17 – July 1997)

Every year, forest fires bring destruction, injury, and even death. The ability of forest fire incident managers to control fires quickly, thereby limiting the damage, is to a great extent dependent on their ability to gather information, to deploy resources, and to perform emergency evacuations efficiently.

The MALAT Division of Israel Aircraft Industries, using mature Remotely Operated Air Vehicle (ROA) (or Unmanned Air Vehicle [UAV]) technology, has developed the application described herein, which provides real-time information to fire management, greatly enhancing the ability to manage resources. The application also provide fire fighters alerts, emergency communications relay, and other features beneficial for improvement of cost effective and safe fire suppression.


Fire management decisions rely primarily on fire scenario information. Several factors serve to limit the ability of the incident manager to gain relevant information:

  • Smoke over the fire area interferes with the ability to obtain comprehensive fire intelligence.
  • The incident commander, in many cases, must personally fly over the fire area, thus leaving his management post.
  • Using manned aircraft for flights over the fire area has certain limitations. Night flights are undesired for safety reasons, flight time is limited, and in-smoke flights are hazardous. Due to the consequent lack of information decisions are sometimes based on outdated information.
  • Serious situations on the fire line often develop rapidly with very little prior notice. This makes it difficult to mobilize current intelligence gathering technology to assist the manager in making the necessary decisions in a timely manner.
  • The quality of radio communications with fire fighting forces is sometimes very poor, especially in mountainous areas.

Furthermore, the safety and well being of all fire suppression resources on the fire line, as well as their ability to effectively battle the fire, depend on radio communications, contact with immediate supervisors, knowledge of their actual location on the fire line, and prediction of fire behavior. Using the currently available resources, radio communications are sometimes of poor quality, the contact with supervisors is hindered, knowledge of location is sometimes outdated, and the means to accurately predict fire behavior are limited.


The system which has been successfully demonstrated in Missoula, Montana, U.S.A., in October 1996, and is capable of the following: 

  • Continuous real-time TV and FLIR (forward-looking Infrared) imagery of fire scenario, down-linked to the fire control center (day or night)
  • Fire front line and hot spots overlaid on either a digital map or a smoke free pre-prepared aerial or satellite photo map (ortho-photo) enabling the incident commander to see the forest, houses, roads, railroads, etc.
  • Print out of the fire map issued in real time
  • Location of fire fighting forces overlaid on the same map or ortho-photo. This capability includes the display of fire-fighter’s emergency situation stress alarms (SOS) and their location coordinates.
  • The display of direction and speed of wind (at the ROA/UAV flight level) and alarms about significant changes in wind direction and speed.
  • The ability to identify (using the IR image) the location where retardants have been applied. By simply clicking his mouse on the digital map, the system automatically provides the next “drop” location coordinates.
  • The ability to easily transfer (to any desired location) a full fire scenario image by modem.
  • Spotting distance and burnt area calculations.
  • Provide a map of fire intensity using different transparent colour shades on the fire map.
  • Computation and designation of the speed at which the fire front line is progressing in the various perimeter locations, including prediction of the front line location for various periods (30 minutes, 1 hour, etc.), and prediction of the time it will take to reach a particular location.
  • Continuous monitoring of fire fighting resources and fire behavior to provide alerts of dangerous blow-up conditions on the fire line and potential entrapment of fire fighters.
  • Through integration of a terrain-passability software module, the fire manager can determine the optimal routes for the fire fighters and the time required for withdrawal of forces.
  • Monitoring of two adjacent incidents by two ROA/UAVs simultaneously.
  • Emergency airborne radio communications relay.
  • In addition, the system includes the capability to function in a detection mode of operation, for early warning and suppression.



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Fig.1. The Firebird 2001 during test flights in 1996


Prototype Capabilities and Features

The Civilian ROA/UAV System is structured to accept any of IAI/MALAT’s airborne platforms. Nevertheless, the two platforms especially suitable for civil applications and budgets are: 

  • The Firebird 2001, a compact, low weight configuration, flight testing completed in October 1996, and
  • The Heron, a long endurance, long range configuration capable of carrying a heavy payload with a demonstrated endurance of 52 straight flight hours.

 Both configurations share the same avionics, briefly described below.

The FIREBIRD 2001 (Compact) configuration: 


Engine D.H. 290, 23.5 HP Take Off Weight 140-150 kg Pay load weight 15-25 kg Fuel 19 kg Loiter endurance 5 hours Ceiling 15,000 ft Cruise speed 60 kts


The Heron (Long-range, long-endurance, heavy payload) Configuration: 100 flight hours, 15 flights, including 52 continuous flight hours


Engine Rotax 914, 100/115 HP Take Off Weight 1100 kg Payload weight 250 kg Fuel 250 kg Loiter endurance 40 hrs (with 250 kg fuel) Ceiling 35,000 ft Cruise speed 80 kts Power (electric) 4 kW


Common to both systems, special redundancy and BIT (Built In Test) provisions will enable a reliable, safe and simple operation of the system. The avionics package developed for any particular platform configuration can very easily be implemented on another platform configuration. Consequently the descriptions herein focus on the avionics capabilities of the prototype demonstration system, rather than on any particular aspect of the platform.

Avionics Features

  • Redundancy for all system components other than the engine
  • System architecture ensures the safe return home after a sub-system malfunction. The system architecture has been designed so that a malfunction of any one sub-system does not result in malfunction of any other sub-system
  • GPS autonomous navigation enables better navigation accuracy than VOR transportation air traffic
  • Day and night operation of system platform and payload
  • Battery-power redundancy
  • Central double (redundant) computer for flight control and communication management
  • “Pilot camera” for “internal pilot” control
  • BIT (Built In Test) for autonomous flight decisions
  • Continuous wind direction and velocity computation
  • Continuous status computation, return home decision capability (bingo) and pre-bingo alarm
  • Time for next way-point computation
  • Location of ROA/UAV continuously displayed on GCS digitized map
  • “Camera control” flight mode enables direction control of camera to Point Of Interest with fixed angles (relative to airframe) while UAV automatically keeps consequent required flight conditions.
  • Simple and easy operation of system
  • Continuous ground record of flight parametres and camera data

 Some advantages of ROA/UAV use over other existing technologies

  • Long endurance capability (Heron 52 continuous flight hours demonstrated)
  • No risk to human life: Enables close approach to hazardous locations, such as:
    • Bad weather condition areas
    • Airspace with reduced visibility (heavy smoke)
    • Chemically polluted areas
    • Radioactively contaminated areas
  • Long range capability (Heron – 700 miles to target, 20 Hour mission loiter, and return home)
  • No human physiologic limitations
  • Short runway requirements: 400 metre strip suitable for take-off and landings.

     For more technical information contact:



    Mr. Uzi Zurgil
    Applications Manager
    Civil UAV
    MALAT Division
    Ben Gurion International Airport
    70100 Israel

    Fax: ++972-3-9355222
    Tel: ++972-3-9355970/7

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