NASA’s Langley Research Center to test fire-spotting drone over the Great Dismal Swamp

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Hampton, Va. – NASA’s Langley Research Center will test a small drone that may help detect and prevent multi-million dollar fires at the Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge.

NASA Langley has signed a one-year agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to test the drone as a way to check for brush or forest fires.

The research is part of the NASA Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate’s UAS Integration in the National Airspace System (NAS) project.

Research lead Mike Logan, who also happens to live due north of the swamp, came up with the idea after a forest fire in 2011 that lasted almost four months. Smoke from that fire, which was caused by a lightning strike, traveled all the way to Maryland and cost more than $10 million to put out. That was only three years after another $10 million blaze in 2008, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

“I made a phone call to the local fire captain after inhaling days of peat bog smoke,” said Logan. “I learned most fires are caused by lightning strikes and the only way they can spot them is by hiring an aircraft to do an aerial survey of the huge swamp. So I figured why not use a UAV or drone as a fire detector?”