FAIRBANKS - An unmanned aircraft, launched by researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, spent more than 18 hours over several days in late June taking aerial photographs of the Interior to help the Army prepare for wildfires.
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Logging more than 18 hours of flight time in six flights, the UAF Geophysical Institute's unmanned aircraft completed its first scheduled campaign of the year in the Stewart Creek impact area near Eielson Air Force Base. During the flights, which took place June 21 through June 24, the aircraft collected 30 color images per second of about 43 square miles of terrain. The images will be pieced together and analyzed by the U.S. Army Alaska Garrison to map the growth of wildfire fuels.
This was the first flight of the aircraft, dubbed "Insight." The plane weighs less than 40 pounds and was designed and manufactured by Insitu Inc. in Bingen, Wash. UAF purchased the plane last year.
"This campaign was an ideal initial experiment for our operation," said Greg Walker, manager of the University of Alaska's Unmanned Aircraft Program and Poker Flat Research Range. "The application gave us our first chance to exercise our aircraft, and the Army gave us access to restricted airspace where we did not have to worry about conflicts with other airplanes."
The images collected by the plane will help officials plan for prescribed fires in the impact area. Prescribed fires minimize the chance of flames igniting during live fire training exercises conducted in the area by Army and Air Force users. Mapping wildfire fuels in the Stewart Creek impact area is typically a challenge because ground access is restricted. The plane safely gathered images of the area from an average altitude of 1,500 feet.
In the coming weeks, the individual images captured will be stitched together. The result will be a high-resolution color map of the entire impact area.
In addition to image collection, the campaign allowed other interested parties to see the unmanned airplane in action. Personnel from the Alaska Fire Service were on scene to observe how the aircraft might aid their efforts during wildfires.
The Geophysical Institute is slated to perform several other campaigns with the plane throughout the state this summer.