The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Airport Technology Research and Development Branch conducted a research effort to explore the use of small unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) to improve the situational awareness and effectiveness of aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) personnel when monitoring the response to an ongoing ARFF accident/incident. The purpose of this effort was to develop minimum recommended performance specifications and technical/operational considerations for the use of UAS to aid ARFF response.
This research effort was conducted in three phases. The first two phases consisted of testing of various UASs and sensor payloads at Atlantic City International Airport to develop preliminary minimum performance specifications and best practices for how to use UASs during an ARFF response. Phase 1 consisted of daylight testing, while Phase 2 consisted of daylight, twilight, and nighttime testing. The third phase was conducted at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport’s Fire Training Research Center in conjunction with two of their Advanced Strategies and Tactics for Aviation Incidents classes. During Phase 3, UASs were flown during live-fire training exercises while providing responders with the live payload feed to evaluate the benefits and limitations of UASs and validate the recommended performance specifications and technical/operational considerations for how to use UASs during an ARFF response.
This report provides a comprehensive summary of the testing conducted and recommended UAS platform and payload specifications. Based on analysis of footage and feedback collected during testing, UASs equipped with thermal and visual cameras were found to provide a significant situational awareness benefit to incident commanders in a variety of ARFF response scenarios. FAA researchers set minimum performance specifications, including minimum live-streamed video resolutions of 1280 horizontal pixels x 720 vertical pixels (720p) for visual cameras and 640 horizontal pixels x 512 vertical pixels for thermal cameras.