Israel’s Elbit airborne system halves time to control fires
Israel-based international defence electronics company, Elbit Systems Ltd, recently completed development of its new airborne fire fighting capabilities likely to halve the time required to gain control over large-scale fires. The company has registered its development as a patent in several countries. The patent is based on a system called HyDrop adjusted for installment on any aircraft designed to take part in fire fighting efforts. The new system is designed to enable fire fighting aircraft to operate above fires at night, which was formerly impossible for reasons of safety. As a result of these new capabilities, aircraft taking part in these efforts will be able to fly at great height, thereby avoiding the risk of low-level flying, such as hitting buildings, trees and high-voltage poles and wires.
Airborne fire fighting operates currently take place only during the daytime and at low heights in order to spray water or fire retardant materials accurately on the centre of the fire. Even daytime fire fighting flights are risky because the pilots encounter thick smoke from the fire liable to affect their field of vision and spatial orientation.
Current airborne fire fighting systems cannot operate at great heights because of what is called the "aerosol effect, meaning that the volume of water or fire retardants launched from the aircraft is diffused by the time they reach the ground, rendering them ineffective in combating the fire.
Elbit's system is based on capsules made of plastic-like material developed together with students from the Department of Textile Design at the Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art in Ramat Gan. Each fire fighting capsule is the size of a small change purse. A special filling system developed by Elbit, which is part of the HyDrop system, fill the capsule with water, fire retardant, or foam to combat the fire. The capsules are stored in the belly of the plane, which drops thousands of the capsules on the centre of the fire.
Elbit Systems believes that its system will enable fire fighting aircraft to fly over fires at great height, even in darkness and drop the capsules on the burning ground, while maintaining maximum safety for the plane and its crew. "The capsules are made of biodegradable material that has been approved by a laboratory in Spain that tests environmentally friendly materials. The material in the capsules does not damage the environment when burned. Even if the capsules are not burned, they decompose within three months and become a type of organic material that can be beneficial and help renew the vegetation in the fire area," says Elbit Systems VP projects Gadi Maydan.
Development sources at Elbit Systems say that the liquid capsules are adapted for serving as payloads and being dropped from any aircraft used for fire fighting in Israel or elsewhere without any special adjustments.
One Air Tractor plane used by the Israel airborne fire fighting squadron is capable of bearing three tons of such liquid, while a Hercules cargo plane used by the Israeli air force is capable of bearing 12-15 tons of the capsulised liquid per mission and of dropping it on the centre of the fire. The capsule filling system can be deployed rapidly on the landing strips from which the fire fighting planes take off on their way to the fire areas. The system can produce 12 tons of capsules an hour.
While the system was being developed, teams from Elbit Systems' aircraft division analysed large fires that occurred in Israel and worldwide in recent years, including the 2010 fire on the Carmel mountain range, which claimed 44 lives and major fires in Greece, California, Australia and elsewhere.
Maydan says, "We analysed characteristics of large fires that took place in the past and found that in most cases, they began in the late afternoon, just before nightfall. Airborne fire fighting capabilities are unavailable during these critical hours."
Maydan added, "The new capabilities, which we will soon bring to market, will facilitate a continuous response that will make it possible to put out fires much more quickly, including at night time. When there is an intensive response in the first hours of the fire, controlling the fire will become easier."
Use of Elbit's new system is liable to add hundreds of dollars to the cost of each fire fighting mission but according to senior Elbit Systems executives, the extra cost will be offset by preventing losses of property, nature values and the costs of many conventional fire fighting missions that are needed when a fire gets out of control.
Tests of the new system also included safety aspects, including the possibility of a capsule filled with water or fire retardant hitting a person near the fire on the head. In an attempt to assess this possible problem, it was assumed that a person's head is similar in shape to a watermelon. Elbit Systems screened a clip filmed in one of the trials in which hundreds of capsules were dropped from a great height on a target with several watermelons nearby. The capsules hit the ground, exploded and sprayed the material in all directions but did not harm the watermelons.
Published by Globes