Robert Carr thinks he might have invented a way for firefighters to do just that.
Carr is the founder and CEO of Supero USA, an Oklahoma company that specializes in aerodynamic technology, specifically a fixed-wing aircraft fitted with video and thermal imaging cameras designed to give users a view from the sky.
His latest project is going through the paces at the University Multispectral Laboratories testing facility in Stillwater. After that, it will undergo further testing at Fort Sill.
The aircraft features vertical takeoff and landing and can run on hybrid fuels as well as electricity and gasoline. The aircraft operates anywhere from just a few hundred feet off the ground to potentially 40,000 feet.
“Our plane needs no runways, no preparation on the front end or back and no launching systems or anything like that. You just pull out your iPod-like device, point, click and it goes,” Carr said.
The fire service plane gives scene commanders a view of the fire’s intensity and size.
Local, state and federal fire marshals, including Oklahoma City Fire Department officials, plan to test the device before the end of the month at an undisclosed location.
Oklahoma City Fire Chief Keith Bryant is among those who will pay particularly close attention to this month’s tests.
“At the Oklahoma City Fire Department, we try and be progressive enough in our thinking to at least take a look at it and see what the applications are,” he said.
“Beyond that, you see if this is something useful to your community. You could make a case for Oklahoma City — with as much land area that we cover — there could be some usefulness as far as looking at a lot of area very quickly.”
Carr said the recent wildfires are a prime example of the technology’s usefulness.
“We would have been out there all over it,” Carr said of the blazes that have caused millions of dollars in damage. “The advantage we’ll be able to give the fire department is they will be able to see where to put their resources and how to get there. Right now, they kind of have to guess at it, especially in a wildfire situation like that.”
Carr said *drone* technology has far-reaching domestic applications — including search and rescue, assessing tactical situations for law enforcement and assessing natural disasters. Also called unmanned vehicles, drones are often used in war zones and other dangerous environments. Drones, which can be both aerial or ground, have recently come to public attention for their use by the U.S, military in Afghanistan.
“They’re going to be as common as a police car, a fire truck or an ambulance,” Carr said. “You’re going to find police sending out UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) right at the moment of a 911 call and they’ll be sending eyes directly over. In Oklahoma City, our plane can be anywhere in the whole city in just a few minutes.”
The technology has already been used by law enforcement agencies. Just 400 miles to the south, the Montgomery County (Texas) Sheriff’s Office became the first department in the nation to adopt drone technology in 2010.
Chief Deputy Randy McDaniel said his agency combined $80,000 of its own money with a $220,000 federal grant to purchase a ShadowHawk drone.
“It’s a very viable public safety tool,” McDaniel said. “Because of the nature of the beast and the value of one, we would have pursued it [even without the federal funding].”
McDaniel said the drone can be used in high-risk warrant situations, hazmat spills, search and rescue, accident investigation and fire scenes.
But there are challenges. He said drone use requires Federal Aviation Administration authorization, which can slow things down, and there are privacy concerns currently being discussed at the federal level.
“It’s been extensive interest from law enforcement agencies throughout the country,” McDaniel said of the buzz following his department’s investment. “I certainly believe this is an extremely effective tool that can be utilized by public safety agencies and I don’t limit it to just law enforcement.”