Flying a UAV at night over a forest fire.

Hey UAV heads!

I've been flying RC's my whole life but I'm totally new to this sort of thing. I'm trying to find a solution to fly a UAV autonomously over a forest fire at night. The goal is to have it record IR video and send it back to a base station which records the live IR video and also the GPS coordinates, time and date, like an information overlay over the IR image. Over course it also needs to be able to fly safely at night atonomously. If price and platforms weren't a concern, is this possible?


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  • Hi Auk,

    Going back to your original question about platforms, you could use a fixed wing flying in stabilised mode using First Person View technology to scout for areas of interest, then switch to autonomous (drone) control to survey and map the area of interest, as stated in an earlier post, there is a forum on DIY Drones that covers survey and mapping. Check out the FPV Hub forum in the UK and organisation, people are flying up to 40km from base in some countries. and

    You might want to drop New Generation Hobbies an email, as they are based in Woodbridge, Ontario and will know all about the laws relating to FPV in Canada (frequencies, etc.)

    Please consider opening up a "Forest Fire" blog if you make any progress on this subject.

    Best of luck,


  • I work for the University of Alaska Fairbanks and we fly UAV's for them for forest fire. It is very possible but I would stay away from quads on a mission like this. Beside the facts of can this be done. there are a lot of legal requirements. If you want to talk more off line I can do that just message me and I will give you my contact info. 



  • at night and autonomously, that's going to be a problem.  Updrafts from fires can be hell to fly through.  Ive flown uav's in the day and because of problems ive had, we have to take control manually.   Do it during the day, but good luck getting the government to agree to letting you doing it.   

  • Hey Auk, what part of BC are you in?  Anywhere in the north, near Terrace?   What you are considering seems pretty reasonable to me and I too have considered this application as I also work for an aviation company that does fire work.  Although there are limitations here as others have pointed out, I think it is still feasible. For example, 15min seems short but a drone can cover a lot of ground in that time. Also the thermals created by a fire will mess with the barometer as I have proven by nearly dropping into a bonfire, however we are not really talking about flying over a fire so much as looking for hotspots.  To answer your basic question, yes it certainly is possible, the biggest hurdle might be regulatory in nature. If you are in Northern BC maybe we could get together and see what we can come up with as I am already flying a heavy, camera carrying quad with FPV video and OSD that flies about 15 min.

  • Seems like a pretty tough challenge for low altitude flight and a regulatory challenge for high altitude flight.

    I'd be concerned that the high degree of thermal variation would make any small platform extremely unstable (and hard to correct for). In addition super heated air will make the sensing of altitude complicated as both temperature and pressure will vary wildly.

    I'm not saying it can't be done, I'm just point out some areas of potential trouble.

  • I have 5 yrs. infrared scanning experience from various helicopter platforms over Northern Canada forest fires. Early morning say around 4:30 am was the preferred time to scan, this allowed the surface heat of rocks, discarded cans and bottles to cool down eliminating false positives. Scanning only came into play for the bigger fires when overall fire fighting resources allocation was critical. I'll have more to contribute unfortunately I have to go for now.

  • It sounds like a job, if you were to employ a UAV, for a fixed wing -- better range.

    The environment would be more harsh and flight stability bumpy with all the varied hot spots, air mass movements, etc.

    If your fire were nicely located over a moderately flat area, all the better. But if in a valley with rough terrain, more challenges.

    There are some commercial rotary wing UAVs but of course the price is significantly more than 3DR range of products.

    Risking a machine is far better than risking a human and if you can pinpoint a hotspot and apply the manpower to end it efficiently and safely, all the better.

    The technology is still young but now is the time to explore it.


  • Thanks,

    We own an aviation company that has contracts with the government to fight these fires with manned vehicles. These are natural disaster fires which are only fought during the day, when it's dark we wouldn't be getting in the way of anyone. I'm not looking for moral answers, technical facts would be great thanks. I know big companies like Aeryon have this technology, was hoping to get pointed in the right direction on researching this.

  • Sounds pretty dumb, you most likely are getting in the way of the real heroes who are actually trying to fight the fire. They have enough problems with flying about in a fire that they need more annoyances which could be dangerous and hurt real people. Let the professionals do their work in peace.

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