The British Columbia Wildfire Service, over the evenings of July 6 and 7, conducted tests of helitankers using night vision goggles near Penticton to determine how the technology could potentially assist with future firefighting operations.
BC Wildfire Service (BCWS) explains a decision was made prior to the first flight to have the helitanker make drops on a small, contained campfire, because it would yield more meaningful results and allow the team to better evaluate the technology’s effectiveness.
On July 10, BCWS released the initial results of its night vision goggle (NVG) testing, which included crews experimenting with different water pumps to fill the aircraft’s tank. The Mark 3 pump filled the tank in approximately 2.5 minutes, states BCWS, and additional testing with other types of pumps will be considered in future to see whether they would result in faster onload times.
BCWS also found, that by leveraging NVGs at night, turnaround times (from loading to landing) were similar to what it would have occurred during daytime operations – noting turnaround times will vary by site and conditions present at the time.
Ground crews, which were at the same height as the drop targets, noted that NVG technology helps provide accurate assessments of each drop, which was provided as immediate feedback to helitanker pilots for adjusting procedures throughout the trial.
BCWS also reports that filling the tank at night takes more time than during daytime operations. Experimenting with higher-pressure pumps (as well as trying out field filling sites) will help increase the amount of suppressant that can be dropped on a fire. BCWS states standard operating procedures for aerial supervision and helitanker interaction with ground crews will continue to be refined in future trials to ensure the safe and effective use of aircraft at night; and that the use of different lighting methods by ground crews to identify targets will also be further explored.
BCWS plans for the next phase of the NVG trials to involve responding to an active wildfire, as the organization continues to continue to look for opportunities to work with other vendors and test NVG technology for fire detection and other wildfire-related activities.