NASA, Air Force Drones to Fly Over Fire Zone

NASA and the U.S. Air Force are bringing their technical know-how to the fight against the southern California wildfires.

On Wednesday, NASA's Ikhana unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) was scheduled to take off from Edwards Air Force Base to survey the wildfires, which now stretch across a vast area from Santa Barbara south to San Diego and the Mexican border.

"We are hoping to launch tomorrow for a nine-hour mission, with the possibility of follow-on missions Thursday and Friday," Fred Johnsen, a spokesman for NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards told Air Force Times Tuesday. "The Ikhana is on the ramp, and you can see the smoke from the Arrowhead fires about 70 miles away."

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The Ikhana is a modified version of the Air Force's medium-altitude propeller-driven Predator B drone, and is normally used for atmospheric and aeronautics research. Data it collects will be overlaid on Google Maps to help firefighters find hidden hot spots.

Hundreds of miles to the north at Beale AFB near Sacramento, the Air Force was readying its Global Hawk UAV for day-long missions to the fire zone.

One source told Air Force Times the high-altitude, turbojet-propelled Global Hawk would be flying in 16-hour stints for the next week.

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