Objectives of the service
The FB Eye project results from the need of aerial firefighting operators to manage real-time coordination of flight operations, information and to streamline operational response.
The objective is to develop an innovative tool addressing the waterbombing accuracy problem, the most effective weapon against forest fires, since nowadays the water release point is qualitatively eye-assessed by the pilots. This solution enables the waterbomber operators to have a better fire theatre situational awareness and to improve the waterbombing accuracy, which are key features to reduce operations time and costs and to increase response effectiveness and safety.
The following tasks are covered in this project:
- Indicating the optimal water release coordinates, in space and time, in order to reduce the propensity of the fire to spread;
- Enhancing the geographic multi-temporal Situational Awareness of the fire scenario;
- Realtime assessing the actual waterbombing effectiveness;
- Assure the compliance of the system with the operational constraints.
This will contribute to:
- Reduce the duration of fire extinguishing time;
- Reduce the incidence and extent of forest fires, which are already among the first contributors to climate change;
- Optimize the response efficiency and costs;
- Enhance the coordination of the airborne teams involved in the response operations.
Users and their needs
Since the project involves as partner Air Tractor Europe company, which is the unique seller of the AT802 waterbombing aircraft, the target will be all the many EU operators which employ the same aircraft.
By retrofitting the hundreds of already sold aircrafts and by equipping the new ones, the target user communities will be focused on the airborne operators engaged in firefighting operations, and since the project relies upon open architecture this will allow to address also a secondary customer segment, as Public Authorities or private companies using or renting larger/smaller aerial platforms than AT802 (helicopters, Canadair and drones). This feature also makes it suited – with the appropriate modifications and customizations – to general Civil Protection and SAR purposes relating to emergency situations and natural disasters.
Mainly, the user communities have needs to:
- maximize the efficiency of waterbombing
- assess the success of the bombing
- limit damages from fires
- hit the best possible fire spot in order to decrease the progression velocity of fire-front, accounting for the evolution of the fire in a predictive way
- increase the geographic multi-temporal Situational Awareness of the fire scenario
- have a system certified to perform critical flight operations
The solution identified to meet the user's needs is to provide the pilot with the precise coordinates of water release which reduces the spread of fire and overcomes another key problem of poor visibility created by smoke propagation.
The main challenge is given by the real-time integration of onboard acquired data with the control room computing through two-way satellite communications.
Another innovative feature is to provide onboard and non-onboard actors with continuously updated information integrated in a cloud-based, real-time geographic Decision Support System.
Service/ system concept
The project goal is to develop an end-to-end, standalone service able to provide:
- the coordinates of the water release within the aircraft cockpit indicating to the pilot the most effective coordinates in space and time, accounting for hot-spot energy, observed-and-forecasted (expected) fractional progress of the fire-front, local vegetal fuel and avoidance areas;
- the aircraft operators with the geographic multi-temporal Situational Awareness (SA) of the fire scenario, including aircraft location and the multi-temporal evidence of bombing efficiency.
This tool will make the waterbombing service provider capable of:
- Upgrade company technical competitiveness of the firefighting service with respect to the competitors;
- Carry out effective firefighting operations even in poor visibility conditions;
- Optimize the response efficiency and costs, reducing the incidence of forest fires.
The system is composed by:
- Airborne segment, equipping the waterbomber, which includes belly thermal camera, onboard tablet, IMU/GNSS and satellite modem
- Cloud based Ground segment
During the operational scenario, the system will acquire thermal images, which will be pre-processed onboard and sent to ground segment via satellite. Here the data will be elaborated in near real time to extract the most effective possible waterbombing coordinates, which be transmitted to the waterbomber cockpit and displayed on the table, alerting the pilot when and where to drop.
Space Added Value
The FB Eye system shall use the following space-based assets for telecommunications and positioning.
The telecommunications between the Ground segment and the Airborne Toolkit will be based on a commercial Satellite terminal, realized as an integrated single assembly package that is optimized for airborne data transmission. The satellite communications link is the solution best fitting the project goal, as forest fires are often located in areas poorly covered by terrestrial communications with acceptable bandwidth.
The terminal data rate features and the satellite service GEO constellation allow the system to transmit and receive the required items within the operational timing constraints ensuring excellent coverage over Europe.
Positioning and Navigation
The location of airborne segment, should be known with best accuracy, allowing thermal imagery from the onboard FLIR camera to be correctly georeferenced. GNSS services in absolute positioning are crucial for integrated firefighting C2, aimed at fitting the most probable, and worst operation context. The FB Eye multi-GNSS (GPS, GALILEO, GLONASS, SBAS) guarantee excellent performances in terms of:
- accuracy (position: 2.5m CEP; SBAS: 2.0m CEP), which don’t significantly affect the effectiveness of waterbombing
- Navigation Update rate (up to 10 Hz), which assures a position update every 10m
Held several videoconferences with the firefighting aerial operator Titan Firefighting technicians and pilots, consolidating project requirements. The BDR (Baseline Design Review) meeting has been held in May 2021, with the support of Titan Firefighting.
The CDR (Critical Design Review) is planned in September 2021.