The U.S. Forest Service is experimenting with a small unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for studying smoke generated by fires. The six-rotor hexacopter can carry a five-pound payload and the onboard GPS enables it to hover in one spot or follow a predetermined flight path.
“We first took a test flight in a field near the University of Georgia,” says Scott Goodrick, project leader of the Forest Service Southern Research Station Center for Forest Disturbance Science. “Then a friend told me he was doing a prescribed burn on his pasture, so we took it out there to see how it would perform. We’re very impressed with how easy it is to maneuver the hexacopter.”
“For now we’re just using the camera, which provides very good images,” says Goodrick. “Eventually we’ll add an infrared camera so that we can measure different aspects of fire from overhead, as well instruments to measure weather variables and particulate matter in smoke from fire. At some point, we’ll be able to measure what happens to vegetation after a fire and compare this to the data taken by satellites.”