The future of wildland firefighting launched Wednesday morning in Idaho, the AP reports, as the U.S. Department of Interior and the U.S. Forest Service launched a successful test of a pilotless helicopter to perform firefighting tasks. A Lockheed Martin helicopter capable of flying autonomously with no human control did so as it scooped up water, dropped it on target and delivered supplies to a distant ridge in a demonstration in front of top federal decision makers 20 miles east of Boise.
The agencies say new methods are needed to fight increasingly ferocious wildfires. The pilotless helicopter with high-tech sensors can fly at night and in smoky conditions too dangerous for manned flights, tripling the amount of time aircraft could be attacking blazes.
Federal officials say other companies besides Lockheed Martin are also being considered.
Officials say the pilotless crafts could be flying above fire lines next summer; AP reporter Keith Ridler has a full report here.