vlat firefighting

Technology that promises to keep aerial firefighters safe

As the temperatures slowly drop in one part of the world and soar in another, there becomes increasingly less downtime for firefighters. The statistics don’t lie. Wildfires are becoming increasingly widespread and relentless. Additionally, the population is growing, and in turn, the boundaries of cities in metro areas are moving further and further out. We are seeing residential areas encroaching on country that wants to burn. These factors are adding increasing pressure on those who operate in harm’s way — and because of this, there’s more expectation on fire agencies to offer a long-term service to better keep people, communities and housing, safe.

In the face of these issues, we need to look to technology to find ways to help keep our first responders free from harm. 

This retired pilot has come up with an answer, a drone that focuses on nighttime operations as an indispensable and necessary complement to aerial means, already in use during daytime.

We chatted to NITROFIREX founder, Luis Bordallo, about the increased need for UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) in firefighting and how this development plans to work alongside manned aircraft to ultimately save more lives.

Where was this concept born from?

I retired last year after being a pilot for 45 years. I spent 20 years in the Spanish air force as a fighter and attack pilot and later as a civilian airline pilot. I specialized in tactics of attack to the ground and especially in guided bombs, once in the civil life followed the evolution of this technology.

It was a summer’s day in 2001 and I was flying at sunset from Porto to Madrid. I could see there were more than 25 active fires burning all at the same time  it looked like a battlefield, and all I could see were firefighting planes retreating to their base.

That dantesque spectacle made me reflect and think about a new method to be able to extinguish forest fires at night, while minimising risk for the crews and applying modern available technologies. From then, I began studying all the possibilities and in January of 2005, I began the patent process in different countries.

nitrofirex 2 

Tell us about your solution

NITROFIREX integrates the industrial technologies of the Defence Force in order to attain an operational capability that could be applied in the battle against wildfires. NTROFIREX acts to mitigate an atomic, chemical or biological emergency, a meteorological phenomenon (inducing rain, avoiding hail, dissipating fogs), or a plague and provides access to remote or inaccessible regions for any number of other reasons.

Our main focus, however, has become its wildfire fighting capability. The product is an innovative worldwide patented specific drone. Designed for developing the night aerial forest fire fighting operational capability. Our key focus is on nighttime operations as an indispensable and necessary complement to daytime aerial firefighting.
Having the ability to tackle fires at night would significantly reduce the devastation witnessed in some of our larger fires, and help ground crew and manned aircraft get a handle on fires at night when they’re typically less fierce.

The Concept

The concept is an unmanned vehicle, Autonomous Glider Container (AGC) that releases from a helicopter (like a bucket bamby) or from the rear ramp of a military transport that we call Launcher Aircraft (LA). It’s filled with extinguisher agent or any other substance that might be used for spaying.

Once the drone is gliding and has reached a programmed point in the middle of the atmosphere, it releases its load. The initial phase of the operation is where the AGC's are released from a helicopter “bamby”. The AGC's, containing the payload, glide to their target, equipped with a guidance system, which makes it fully autonomous from the launch to the targeted release point. Reaching their targeted release point the AGCs drop their content automatically, with great precision. The AGC's then rapidly escape the hostile zone taking advantage of the speed and the amount of height gained due to the sudden loss of weight. This manoeuvre is used as a transition into the following phase of recovery. Once empty and out of the hostile zone, the AGC's begin their recovery phase by means of their small jet engine, recovering and landing in the base of operation of the Launcher Aircraft in a completely autonomous way.

nitrofirex

Why is it a vital tool going forward?

Whatever we personally attest it too, the fire seasons are growing. Year after year, alarming reports of devastating forest fires monopolize the media. We’ve seen how catastrophic the fires are currently across the U.S.A., Portugal, Canada, Spain Indonesia, Russia, Bolivia, Israel, India, Australia and Greece  and so often, people have to stand by helplessly and watch on as fires devastate communities, homes, livestock and human lives.

In facing this reality, it is necessary to ask whether political, economic and technical levels are contributing in finding solutions, or at least methods to efficiently relieve these disasters.

According to estimates from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), forest fires create between 14-20% of all CO2 projected into the atmosphere annually. On the other hand, all the activity of commercial aviation worldwide causes only 2% of all the emission.

For example, the European project CLEANSKY has a budget estimated at €1,600M in order to obtain a higher efficiency of engines, the employment of biofuels, intelligent wings and the reduction of weight, etc.

Paradoxically, very little technological effort is being put into research regarding the elimination or the reduction of the 14-20% emission of CO2 that results from wildfires and, above all, the lack of research into aerial fire extinction  the most versatile and effective method to fight fires.

So, my thinking was to integrate available technology and develop the capacity to drop more fire extinguishing agents in less time, but above all, to be able to do so at night.

The inability to fly at night is one of the greatest operative issues in present-day firefighting.

What problems does it solve?

Night Bombing is becoming increasingly important to ensure fires are not spreading and lives and communities are not lost. But is fraught with risk. NITROFIREX gives the option to carry out nighttime firefighting operations without the risk to manned aircraft.

The NITROFIREX can:

Fight fires at night check icon 
Drug plantation spraying at night check icon 
React to nuclear emergencies (cooling down the reactor) check icon
Fight fires at high builders or large structures (not accessible with standard tubes) check icon
Fight fires at chemical or industrial factories check icon
Pest spraying or seeding in remote or inaccessible areas by manned aircraft check icon
Deliver humanitarian relief supplies in conflict areas  check icon 

 

Advantages

Ability to safely conduct night operations check icon 
No risk for flight crews check icon 
Offers direct support to ground-based fire fighting brigades at night  check icon
Reduced reaction times check icon
High water drop capability per operation hours as compared to current means check icon
Unaffected by wind, turbulence, smoke or clouds check icon
Unaffected by geological barriers  check icon 
Hugely cost effective  check icon