USA– CO- Hoping to propel the evolution of aerial firefighting, Rifle’s Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting held a conference on Wednesday, to discuss bringing back night operations in the state of Colorado.
“I’m excited that other states are looking at it because it’s not just a California problem, it’s a wildland interface problem,” US Forest Service’s helicopter operations specialist, Sean Aidukas said.
According to Aidukas, the US Forest Service has been performing night aerial firefighting operations in California for the past three years and, although, still learning as they go, came to COE’s two-day summit to share what challenges they’ve faced.
“We are all still learning, it’s all evolving and I think Colorado can learn a lot from our experiences,” Aidukas said.
According to officials with the COE, it’s been nearly 35 years since firefighters in Colorado we’re allowed to make night drops on fires, due to high profile helicopter crashes in late 70’s.
“There’s now huge chunks of a 24 hour day we can’t fly– you know– any time the sun goes down we are grounding those assets,” COE director, Melissa Lineberger said. After several months of researching the idea of bringing back nighttime operations, COE is now turning to seasonal aerial technicians/specialist, like Aidukas, to provide them with further insight and feedback.
“I was a ground firefighter for about ten years and was a little skeptical at first to see what it would look like and how it would be able to be used its just amazing technology,” COE’s mission sensor operator, Rene Maine said.
Already using infrared cameras in their Multi-Mission Aircraft to detect fires, Lineberger says COE hopes to implement other technologies to help put night operations back on their radar.
“Night vision goggle folks are here. A 7-47 company out of Colorado Springs that have been re-purposing 7-47s to do tanker drops, they’re here,” Linberger said. “We’ve had a lot of interest from the unmanned aerial systems community, as well, because if you don’t have pilot in– you know– then obviously it’s a little potentially safer to fly the unmanned systems at night. There is endless possibilities we can’t wait to see what we learn.”
Lineberger says she hopes the two-day meeting results in a decision as to whether or not officials want to continue pursuing night operations.