Emerging Tech

Lockheed Martin uses firefighting demo to test drone air traffic control system

Lockheed Martin successfully demonstrated its new drone air traffic control system in a recent simulated firefighting situation. The demo shows how two unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), one large and one small, can work together to put out a fire without causing an accident.

Lockheed, along with NASA, is developing the drone air traffic control system, called the Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management or UTM for short. The goal of the UTM service is to manage the movement of unmanned aircraft through low-altitude civilian airspace. The plan calls for testing of the UTM system in stages, starting with the first “Technology Capability Level” (TCL1). TCL1 in being held this year and includes operations for agriculture, firefighting, and other similar activities. Missions in this TCL1 series focus on developing geofencing technology, enforcing the “rules of the road,” and scheduling the vehicle flight paths. NASA plans to develop the UTM system over the next several years and to eventually transfer it to the FAA for further refinement by 2019.

In its most recent demonstration, Lockheed programmed a Stalker XE UAS drone and an unmanned K-MAX helicopter to work together using the UTM service. The smaller Stalker drone served as a reconnaissance vehicle, using its electro-optic/infrared (EO/IR) imager to pinpoint the location of the fire. This information was relayed to the larger K-max helicopter, which carried water to extinguish the fire. The flight patterns of both vehicles were coordinated using the UTM system, which tracked the drones and communicated their position in real time to air traffic control.

With its eight-hour flight time, large payload capacity, and ability to fly in a variety of weather conditions, the K-MAX power lift helicopter is particularly suited to its job as an aerial firefighter. Using this dual-drone UTM-controlled system, Lockheed Marin claims it can triple the amount of air support provided to ground crews who are fighting fires using traditional methods.

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