General Atomics Aeronautical Systems' Altair UAS Lends Support to Fire Mapping Efforts for Esperanza Wildfire in Southern California

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems' Altair UAS Lends Support to Fire Mapping Efforts for Esperanza Wildfire in Southern California


Nov 07, 2006

16-hour Mission Provides Critical Airborne Thermal Infrared Data for Night Operations

SAN DIEGO – 7 November 2006 – General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA ASI), a leading manufacturer of unmanned aircraft and high-resolution surveillance and radar imaging systems, today announced that its Altair® unmanned aircraft system (UAS) recently completed a long-endurance fire mapping mission in support of the arson-caused Esperanza Fire started near Banning, Calif., in Riverside County on October 26.

“In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authorized Predator® and Predator B to fly in direct support of disaster relief, and with this latest emergency mission we have been able to demonstrate the ability of GA-ASI aircraft to respond to short order tasking for exactly this purpose,” said Thomas J. Cassidy, Jr., president, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. “What the Predator B derivative Altair has accomplished during this first official response to a natural disaster has the potential to refine the future direction of fire mapping for wildfire management agencies across the nation.”

Responding to a call from the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services and the Fire Incident Command Center to assist with fire mapping efforts, GA-ASI teamed with NASA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service (USDA-FS) to provide data gathering resources in an effort to track the movement of the fire through the critical nighttime hours when other aircraft and imaging resources were unavailable.

Following receipt of an emergency amendment to a recently-acquired Certificate Of Authorization (COA) from the FAA, the Altair UAS was launched from GA-ASI’s Gray Butte Flight Operations Facility near Palmdale, Calif. on Oct. 28 equipped with an AMS-Wildfire sensor, a sensing system developed by NASA for improved imaging capabilities and real-time processing and data delivery. Operating at an altitude of 43,000 feet, the aircraft lingered over the fire over a 16-hour period, delivering real-time thermal infrared data to the fire management team via a satellite communications link, with some 100 visible and infrared images distributed and more than 20 data files that the fire perimeter location generated. The Incident Command Center utilized the thermal imagery and derived products to study the fire overnight and prepare maps to assist in the planning efforts for the Incident Action Plan distributed at the team’s morning brief.

The opportunity to support fire mapping efforts for the Esperanza Fire came only days after GA-ASI, NASA, and the USDA-FS had completed the Western States Fire Mission, which was designed to evaluate the use of a UAS with advanced imaging systems to help improve fire mapping capabilities and information on fire-related atmospheric changes. Carrying a payload of instruments for imaging wildfire conditions and measuring trace gases from biomass burning, the Altair UAS operated over the Mojave Desert and Yosemite National Park in California during the course of the Western States Fire Mission and set several new records for Altair, including an endurance of 23 hours and altitude of 48,000 feet with scientific instruments on board.

Altair, a high-altitude version of Predator® B, was designed specifically for scientific and commercial research missions that require high-altitude endurance, reliability and increased payload capacity. Built in partnership with NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center for its Environmental Research Aircraft and Sensor Technology (ERAST) program, the aircraft has logged nearly 500 flight hours since it began service in 2003 and is currently operational with NASA, NOAA, and the USDA-FS. Featuring an 86-foot wingspan and 3,000-pound fuel capacity, Altair can fly above 52,000 feet and remain airborne for over 30 hours. The aircraft is configured with a fault-tolerant dual-architecture flight control system, triple-redundant avionics and a Honeywell turboprop engine for high reliability.

For high-resolution photos of Altair with the AMS-Wildfire sensor, along with images from the sensor, please visit

About GA-ASI

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc., an affiliate of General Atomics, provides comprehensive solutions for military and commercial applications worldwide. The company’s Aircraft Systems Group is a leading designer and manufacturer of proven, reliable unmanned aircraft systems, including Predator, Predator B, and Sky WarriorTM, and provides pilot training and support services for UAS field operations. The Aircraft Systems Group has been awarded the SDD phase of the U.S. Army’s ER/MP UAS Program and is currently developing the next-generation Army Sky Warrior UAS, featuring a heavy-fuel engine, triple-redundant avionics and increased armament capability. The Reconnaissance Systems Group designs, manufactures, and integrates the Lynx® SAR/GMTI sensor system for both manned and unmanned aircraft and is also pursuing the integration of the Magnum (Raptor View) high-resolution EO/IR sensor onto a UAS platform. Leading the industry to new levels of performance, reliability, and operational capability since its establishment in 1993, the company has expanded the acceptance and application of UAS within the United States and among allied forces around the globe. GA-ASI is committed to providing immediately deployable, transformational technology for military operations, weapons systems and civil missions. For more information please visit

Altair, Predator, and Lynx are registered trademarks and Sky Warrior is a trademark of General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc.

For more information contact:

Kimberly Kasitz

Public Relations Manager

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc.