NASA, Northrop Offer Unmanned Aircraft to Aid Firefighting Effort

NASA and Northrop Gumman Corp. are putting unmanned aircraft, outfitted with high-tech imaging equipment, in the air over Southern California to help firefighters battling wildfires on the ground.

NASA's Ikhana aircraft, a Predator B modified for civil science and research missions, took off from Edwards Air Force Base north of Los Angeles Wednesday morning on a 10-hour mission.

Pilots at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center will remotely control the aircraft, which is expected to provide images of fires from Lake Arrowhead to as far south as San Diego County near the Mexican border.

The Ikhana carries a thermal-infrared imaging system capable of seeing through thick smoke to locate hot spots. The images will be processed on-board and transmitted to firefighters on the ground to help them move crews to burning areas.

Defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. Wednesday said the Air
Force was making available some of its Global Hawk unmanned
surveillance planes to spot fires.

The drones gained prominence during the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. The remote-controlled planes were designed in Northrop's San Diego facilities, near many of the wildfires are raging.

Northrop Grumman chief executive Ronald D. Sugar said the planes will be helpful because they fly well above civilian air traffic. He said the planes will be deployed starting Wednesday and can operate up to 20 hours at a time.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

AP-NY-10-24-07 1602EDT

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