Competition could provide help to combat forest fires in N.B.

Competition could provide help to combat forest fires in N.B.

8 May 2009

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Canada —

Aerial drones will be flying over Canadian Forces Base Gagetown this weekend to see if the planes made popular on battlefields might one day help combat forest fires.

Four teams of engineering students from Ontario and Quebec plan to take over the skies this weekend to test new technology aimed at giving firefighters a better view of forest fires.

It’s part of a competition to promote and develop Canadian interest and expertise in unmanned systems technologies. The event is hosted by UVS Canada.

This year’s theme is of interest in New Brunswick. Teams in this year’s competition need to provide critical and timely information to an on-scene fire commander about the size, location and direction of a fire. They must also point out dangers to firefighters from hot-spot flare-ups using video and infrared cameras.

Forest Protection Ltd. operates the air tankers that fight forest fires in New Brunswick. Managing director David Davies plans to attend this weekend’s events.

The company’s fleet is outfitted with a range of high-tech equipment, but he wants to see what students come up with.

“I just want to see what they’re working on, see what’s on board and how they’re doing. I’m hoping for something to jump out at me,” said Davies.

He said the unmanned vehicles may not be authorized for use in Canada right now, but could be at some point.

“We send aircraft out to check the weather. Maybe that could be done by drones,” he said.

Pip Rudkin, president of UVS Canada, said unmanned aerial vehicles made popular through their use by troops in Iraq and Afghanistan have been used during forest fires in California.

“The real advantage of most of them is that they can stay in the air for a long time, anything from 12-48 hours. That’s ideal when you’re working to put out a forest fire. You have the infrared and the vehicle can send down the information to the command centre,” Rudkin said.

Each team has obtained a special flight operating certificate from Transport Canada to fly within the base.

As part of the task, a controlled fire will be set and moved around for each competing team.

A team of experts will grade teams on their accuracy using GPS or grid references, target identification, level of flight autonomy and landing accuracy.

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