Lockheed Martin announced in a press release yesterday that it has demonstrated its air traffic control system for drones, showing that two unmanned aerial systems working together could be used to fight fires, while maintaining contact with air traffic control.
The demonstration used two military grade drones, the smaller Stalker XE UAS and the unmanned K-MAX cargo helicopter.
Stalker XE is a small surveillance and recon drone made by Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works. The drone has a 12-foot wingspan, can fly up to 45 mph and 15,000 feet, and has a flight time of more than 8 hours. The Stalker is specifically designed to provide high definition aerial footage under difficult conditions: it can fly both in daylight or at night and has an electro-optical infrared camera. The K-MAX is built by Kaman and equipped with Lockheed Martin’s systems. It is used to get large amounts of supplies to forces in rough terrain, and can carry 6,000 pounds of cargo and fly at 115 mph. It also can be flown both in daylight and at night, and is designed to fly in difficult weather conditions.
Working together, the drones form a valuable operational team for firefighting. The Stalker is able to locate the fire and process data about intensity and spread, while the K-MAX can deliver water or chemical fire control to the exact location needed. With Lockheed Martin’s Traffic Control system, the drones were able to communicate with each other and with air traffic controllers.
“This demonstration represents the path forward for flying UAS in the NAS using Flight Service-based UTM capabilities to extend the technology and systems that air traffic controllers know and understand,” said Paul Engola, Vice President, Transportation & Financial Solutions. “We were able to successfully modify the existing K-MAX and Stalker XE ground control software to connect to the UTM services and conduct the firefighting mission.”
The potential value to using drones as a firefighting system is immense; being able to operate 24 hours without risk of operator fatigue and injury could significantly lower the impact of wildfires to life and property. The ability to integrate with air traffic control systems may allow them to be used quickly in civilian airspace.