Predator Helped With San Diego Wildfires


Ikhana - NASA’s Predator DroneThe two most popular and technologically advanced unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in the world are built in San Diego. When the Pentagon voiced its need for unmanned aircraft, two San Diego companies answered the call. I spoke about Northrop Grumman’s Global Hawk in a post earlier this month. In that post, I focused on the non-military uses of the Global Hawk, including its use in firefighting and environmental research. Today, I will talk about General Atomics’ Predator.

NASA Photo of Harris Fire from a Predator DroneLike the Global Hawk, the Predator was also used to help battle San Diego’s October 2008 wildfires. In the adjacent photo, you will see imagery provided by the Predator of the Harris Fire near Palomar Mountain. The Predator used by NASA for the firefighting effort is outfitted with an Autonomous Modular Sensor developed by scientists at NASA’s Ames Research Center. This sensor is able to peer through thick smoke to record hot spots for up to 20 hours at a time. During the Harris Fire, this data was “downlinked in near real-time to NASA Ames Research Center near San Jose, overlaid on Google Earth maps, and relayed over the Internet to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, and then to fire incident commanders in the field to aid in their allocation of firefighting.”

I find it quite fascinating how quickly these unmanned aerial systems (UAS) made such an impact since their development in recent years. The unmanned drones are part of a system which consist of the drone, launch pad and a communications center where the drone is directed by Air Force pilots. It is all the more impressive both drones were developed here in San Diego.

I have focused more on the non-military uses in my posts since you probably have already seen the extensive news coverage for their successful use in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. To see the drones in action, I’ve placed a link to a great video below. You will get first hand accounts from Air Force pilots who fly the unmanned aircraft from the safety of their operations center.

You can also see the Predator in person at the San Diego Air & Space Museum.

Predator Brochure from General Atomics

Location of Predator Display at the San Diego Air & Space Museum (See #2)

Predator & General Atomics background from Business Week – 2003

Predator Video – 10 minute documentary on YouTube

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