The Case For The Airship

Page 12 of 12

One of the challenging problems in fighting forest fires is in the method of getting the suppression agent to the fire. For ground engine applications one confronts the difficult, or inaccessible, rugged terrains, such as steep slopes, dense foliage or swamp laden areas. For aerial applications a lot depends on the skill of the pilot for accuracy and timing of the drop. There is the troublesome aspect of the smoke and the very dangerous aspect of the heated air, lowering the air density, affecting aircraft aerodynamics.

Enter the airship. Not a new idea. Their big advantage is the ability to hover near the fire, first as a stationary observation platform. Coordination can be made with the fire commander on the ground to select the best option for an airdrop. On board video fire image coverage, sensors to measure local air density and infrared sensors to locate hot spots are but a few ideas to help with the communication.

The airship would need to employ both the static and dynamic lift features for trim control, as the water/agent drop is a significant ballast release. A snorkel device could be used to load the on-board container (from a body of water). A special holding container would hold the suppression agent to be mixed with the water as is done with the aircraft “water scoopers,” for example. A high pressure water jet could be used to not only deliver the mix several hundred feet but to break up the water droplet to a finer mist, an aspect that has been demonstrated to enhance the overall effectiveness of water. Clearly the operation would be managed by an on-board computer controlled system.

The large drawback is the upfront expense of the airship.

It would make sense to design them for multiple uses. That is, a “fire status” mode and say, a “cargo” mode. The latter, for movement of large equipment, and the many other applications proposed in the literature. A flexible bladder, or detachable container, could be used for the fire status mode so that the static lift volume could be increased, perhaps using the ballonet concept.

The use of water with a modest yet adequate CF mix would be very effective for knockdown of the flame front. The non­corrosive, non-clogging features of CF, along with all its other attributes in combination with the airship delivery method would make a fine overall aerial technique for combating the wildland fires.

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