Renamed intelligence plane provides real-time help to firefighters.
A stealth plane developed for military intelligence is now being used to help fight wildfires.
NASA’s data-gathering drone know as Predator has been re-christened Ikhana, a Choctaw word meaning intelligence, to assuage any fears of civilians seeing the plane overhead. But when the plane flies during fire season, it gives fire crews on the ground real-time assessments of quick-moving blazes.
Ikhana debuted in California in October, when Congressman Buck McKeon arranged for it to be used on fires in Castaic and San Diego. By using heat imaging and producing a 3-D image within five minutes of flying over a burning area, Ikhana was especially useful when Santa Ana winds changed the fire’s direction quickly.
Previously, ground crews had to rely on aerial photographs that took several hours to print and distribute. Using Ikhana, commanders received images on laptop computers that allowed for more effective deployment of crews and quicker fire containment.
Other civilian uses of Predator include topographical and oceanographic studies, but it’s effectiveness in fighting fires in Idaho and California this fall may just change the way wildfires are fought in the future.