ACERO: Improving wildland firefighting operations with drones and aviation technologies

NASA's Advanced Capabilities for Emergency Response Operations (ACERO) project is exploring the use of drones and advanced aviation technologies to improve wildfire coordination and operations.
Kavita Verma
Prototype device involved in fighting wildfires
On May 3, 2022, in Redding, California, Yasmin Arbab, who works as a research associate at NASA's Ames Research Center, was seen testing a prototype device that was created for drone operators involved in fighting wildfires


To enhance the management and operations of wildland fires, the Advanced Capabilities for Emergency Response Operations (ACERO) project of NASA utilizes advanced aviation technologies and drones. The U.S. Forest Service reported that wildfires yearly cause the burning of approximately 1.5 million acres of forests and grasslands in the country and contribute significant quantities of planet-warming carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Suppressing such fires involves a challenging and expensive process, with costs averaging $2.9 billion over five years. Coordination and collaboration between ground crews, firefighters, and multiple government agencies are necessary to contain and respond to these wildfires.

Aerial firefighting is only possible when visibility is apparent, or pilots could collide with other aircraft or fly into terrain. However, using drones for aerial suppression could help expand the time available for aerial operations since they can be safely operated from the ground. Adopting drones for aerial suppression would minimize pilot safety risks and increase the effectiveness of aerial wildfire operations.

ACERO developing airspace management technologies

The absence of necessary tools and situational awareness has been a major impediment to incorporating drones in emergency response operations. ACERO is solving this problem by creating airspace management technologies that allow crewed aircraft, drone operators, and ground crews to share information during wildfire responses. These technologies will help prevent conflicts with aircraft operations by providing everyday situational awareness to all responders. Moreover, ACERO-developed aircraft safety software will minimize the risk of encountering airborne hazards.

The Future of wildland fire response

ACERO is working with various groups to create a plan for managing wildland fires in the future. NASA will collaborate with industry and wildfire response agencies to showcase new ACERO-led aviation technologies through joint field demonstrations in the coming years. These demonstrations will showcase advancements in the Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate, Science Mission Directorate, and Space Technology Mission Directorate.

ACERO is based on previous NASA Aeronautics research projects such as Scalable Traffic Management for Emergency Response Operations and the Unmanned Aircraft System Traffic Management. The aviation advancements made by ACERO for wildland fire operations align with NASA's efforts to help achieve the United States' goal of achieving net zero aviation greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Additionally, ACERO is also contributing to NASA's Advanced Air Mobility research, which aims to support the development of electric air taxis and drones by the industry while ensuring the safe integration of these vehicles into the national airspace by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Study Abstract

Wildfires in the US burn around 1.5 million acres of forests and grasslands every year, emitting a significant amount of carbon dioxide and costing around $2.9 billion to put out. In order to tackle the difficulties associated with controlling and responding to wildfires, NASA's Advanced Capabilities for Emergency Response Operations (ACERO) initiative is creating innovative technologies to enhance coordination and operations. ACERO is utilizing drones and advanced aviation technologies to expand the aerial suppression time frame, which will reduce safety hazards for pilots and increase the efficiency of aerial wildfire operations. Furthermore, ACERO is developing airspace management technologies that will share information among manned aircraft, drone operators, and ground crews during wildfire responses, which will provide responders with a common understanding of the situation and guarantee the safe integration of drones into wildfire operations. These advancements in aerial communication and information-sharing tools will enhance airspace management during wildland fires, and offer response teams with more immediate information to help them make better decisions during emergency response. ACERO is collaborating with government agencies, the science community, and commercial industries to develop a concept of operations for the future of wildland fire management, with joint field demonstrations of newly developed ACERO-led aviation technologies expected in the coming years.

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board