Boeing Wants to Fight Forest Fires With a Howitzer

 Boeing Wants to Fight Forest Fires With a Howitzer

24 August 2016

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USA —  In something of a departure from its usual lines of business, Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) has filed a patent application for an artillery shell that would deliver up to six gallons of fire retardant per round, day or night, 24 hours a day, in any weather, regardless of fire conditions. Some guns could deliver fire retardant within 15 feet of a target at a range of 15 miles, according to the application.

Using a standard guide that estimates the speed at which a wildfire can spread, the patent application noted that on a large 883-acre fire it would take more than 34 hours to deliver 360,000 gallons of retardant by airplane or helicopter. Artillery shells with a three-gallon payload could deliver that much in about half the time, minimizing the area burned to a total of about 1,103 acres compared with a burned area of 3,130 acres when only a helicopter is used to dump retardant on the fire.

The Boeing staff responsible for the application also took notice of the environmental impact of leaving a lot of shrapnel behind:

In one embodiment, the external surface … of the artillery shell … may be made of any degrading metal which decomposes in nature in less than ten years or is inert and is not harmful to the environment without decomposition. In this embodiment, the external surface … is made of high carbon steel, structural glass, or ceramics having a tensile strength greater than about 200 MP such as Zirconia, Zirconia-toughened Alumina, or Alumina.

The shell would explode in mid-air, above the fire, and retardant coverage would vary between one and six gallons per 100 square feet. There is even a proposed variation that does not use any explosive material or fuse.

Seven Boeing employees are listed as the inventors and the patent has been assigned to the company.

The efforts to control unintentional fires are dated back to multiple centuries. The first fire extinguisher was patented in 1723 but was very efficient. Later in 1818, George William Manby invented a modern fire extinguisher, which used potassium carbonate as a fire retardant. Since then, fire extinguishing products and methods has evolved furiously. We also have fire grenades to extinguish indoor fires. However, sometimes having so many ways are still not enough when it comes to forest fires or factory fires.

Extinguishing forest fire is one hell of task. These spread so quick in an area of several acres that it almost becomes impossible to control. Traditionally, these fires are controlled by airdropping fire retardants. Sometimes this works but more often it doesn’t due to a number of reasons.

An aircraft, for example, can carry limited amount of fire extinguishing material. Hence to and fro movement from landing strip takes too much time. Bad weather use to be another roadblock. Also, the smoke becomes fatal for aircraft crew and when airdropping mechanism fails, it causes a loss of flora and fauna as well as money. Oakland fire Storm, for example, incurred a loss of $2,6 billion.

Similarly, in factories and power plants, where the usual cause of fire is chemical spill or electrical short circuit, water can’t be used and fire retardants are relied on to bring these situations under control. Looking at such problems and to find an alternate method, Boeing has come up with quite an innovative way to extinguish fire. Their new method suggests using artillery shells. Yes, as insane as it sounds, this method is equally impressive.

Boeing has recently filed a patent application for a specially designed artillery shell. This can extinguish fires where a fire fighter cannot reach. For example, inside a burning floor of a tall building or inside a factory, where fire has gone wild and yeah, it will be of great help to control forest fires by firing artillery rounds from miles away.

The fire fighting artillery shell by Boeing carries fire retardant instead of ammunition that can be fired using a howitzer, illustrates one of the drawings.

The explosion of environment friendly artillery shells, as the patent suggests, can be controlled to have a greater impact. For example, it can be made to explode right over a particular spot. Also, a global positioning system (GPS) location or a countdown timer can be set.

Boeing has always been an innovative company that time and again comes up with out-of-the box ideas. Last year, for example, in one of its patents, Boeing disclosed a method to generate electricity from airport noise. This new fire extinguishing artillery shell is one such innovative idea. It could be a real game changer as using artillery shells to extinguish fires will definitely be faster and less risky than using a fire fighting aircraft.

Not to mention, as it is quite obvious, militaries are not going to shy away from using these artillery shells when they already own a howitzer.


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