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The Australian Rural Fire Service (RFS) is carrying out trials this fire season with “spy in the sky” unmanned aircraft and drones to evaluate their use to monitor fires for extended periods and to provide early data in the first minutes of arriving on the fire ground.

One test is to likely to take placed in the Wollemi National Park near Singleton, should a major fire operation arise. It will use the Scan Eagle Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), which can send back both thermal and visual image data and is capable of staying airborne for some 20 hours.

Insitu Pacific, the Brisbane operator of the Scan Eagle, believes their use will become almost routine within a year, with a trial contract in place with the Queensland fire and emergency services.

Unmanned systems conference 2014 – Israel

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The RFS NSW also has a contract to trial the Octocopter with multiple rotors with a view to it being launched by the first crew to arrive at the scene of a fire to provide information on the extent of the fire front to enable senior crew to determine how fire fighting assets are deployed.

Anthony Ferguson, superintendent of aviation co-ordination and planning at RFS NSW, said several projects are looking at their potential usefulness for intelligence gathering around fires. This according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

“In the past you would fly during the day, land the aircraft at last light and the night incident management team would work on the intelligence they had from the last couple of hours to plan for the next day.

“With a UAV you can fly night-time intelligence. You can park it [fly in a square] over the fire ground and the Scan Eagle will give us at least 12 hours’ endurance.”