Boeing applies for patent on parachute-delivered fire suppression system

Boeing Patent App
An illustration from Boeing’s patent application #13/776,733

The Boeing Company has applied for a patent on a parachute-based system for applying a suppressant to fires. The devices would be ejected from an aircraft and descend to the fire at 30 to 200 mph. A guidance system would use a glide control structure to fly along a calculated path from the ejection point to the designated location of the fire. The release altitude would be determined by a GPS or a radar altimeter assisted by a fire detection sensor that would increase the accuracy of the flight.

An optional component would be a lighter than air balloon that would inflate and carry the device away from the fire after the suppressant is released. The location of the equipment would be tracked remotely and when over a suitable site the balloon would be deflated so that the unit could be recovered.

The patent lists 15 different possibilities for the suppression agent that would be dispersed over the fire:

suppression agents

This reminds us of the “precision container aerial delivery system” (PCAD) that attempts to re-invent air tankers by dropping 200-gallon plywood/plastic containers of retardant or water, each weighing about 2,000 pounds, from a normally-configured C-130 or C-27. We categorized that as a “lame-ass idea”, primarily because of the danger to anyone on the ground if a chute did not open, the difficulty in providing consistent coverage, and the 100 pounds of plywood, plastic, fabric, and strapping that would be scattered around the landscape. 

Boeing’s idea also has the disadvantage of danger to ground personnel if a chute did not open, but they partially solved the litter problem by guiding the device to a more convenient location where it could be recovered. Consistent coverage would also be an issue. However, we can see a use for Boeing’s system for retarding the spread of small lightning fires at night, when firefighting helicopters and air tankers are grounded. The cargo planes carrying the devices , such as the recently acquired U.S. Forest Service C-130s, could safely fly at night high above the terrain and the fire.

Of course the biggest disadvantage of the Boeing concept is the cost. The high-tech devices will not be inexpensive.

While this may be not practical because of costs and other issues, it is fascinating to hear about outside the box thinking regarding an industry that still uses sharpened pieces of metal attached to the ends of sticks for suppressing fires.

You can read the details about the patent application (1.3 MB file): BoeingPatentApp

Thanks and a hat tip go out to Isaac.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

3 thoughts on “Boeing applies for patent on parachute-delivered fire suppression system”

  1. My bad. As it turns out, the patent was filed under U.S. Patent Classification 244/136, which indeed deals with aerial firefighting: “Arrangements of aircraft structure to provide for the discharging or diffusing of material in the air.” So, this patent should be evaluated as a firefighting solution, at least in terms of originality.

    A related Boeing patent in the same class, “Firefighting bomblets and a precision aerial firefighting method utilizing the same,” was issued in 2006 (U.S. Patent 7,090,029). Interestingly, that patent references a much earlier patent issued for an “Aerial Bomb” in 1933 (#1,903,348) “especially designed as a fire extinguisher, and employed particularly in fighting, extinguishing, and preventing forest fires.”

    Since 1933, the aerial firefighting bomb idea evolved, with patents issued for: “Aerial Device for Fire Extinguishing” (1942, #2,306,321), “Forest Fire Extinguisher” (1944, #2,349,980), “Means for Fighting Forest Fires” (1944, #2,359,573), “Aerial Fire Extinguisher” (1953, “2,633,920), “Method for cooling a nuclear reactor and a product therefor” (1989, #4,836,292 — an interesting read!), “Apparatus for deployment of aerial-drop units” (1989, #4,881,601), “Fire retardant bio-friendly practice munition” (2002, #6,470,805), “Firefighting bomblets and a precision aerial firefighting method utilizing the same” (2006, #7,090,029 — the Boeing patent), “Cellulose-based aerial delivery system and method of use” (2010, #7,845,595), and “Aerial delivery devices, systems and methods.” (2013, #8,480,034 and #8,480,035).

  2. It doesn’t need to work as a firefighting solution. It was filed under U.S. Patent Classification 244/13, “Aeronautical machines sustained by aerodynamic action on airfoils in fixed relation to the machines,” and will be reviewed solely along those lines. Compare with numerous drone-related patents under 244/13, including Disney’s patent for a Flying Entertainment Vehicle (U.S. Patent 8,286,907).

  3. Another excellent example of a company not having a clue about forest or aerial fire fighting. L-A-I my vote. However, Boeing comes with a lot of political horse power. Follow the money on this one. If Boeing is interested in providing a tool for aerial fire fighting I have an internal tank for the CH 47 (CV234) that needs a little push to get in the game. World wide demand about 108 units.


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