Don Nolan-Proxmire Headquarters, Washington, DC (Phone: 202/358-1983

)

July 30, 1996

Mike Mewhinney Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA (Phone: 415/604-3937) Hugh Carson Bureau of Land Management, Reno, NV (Phone: 702/785-6526) Lanny Allmaras USDA Forest Service, Boise, ID (Phone: 208/387-5634) RELEASE: 96-151 AGENCIES TEAM UP TO IMPROVE AERIAL FIREFIGHTING In an effort to improve aerial firefighting safety and efficiency, NASA, the Bureau of Land Management, the USDA Forest Service and the Nevada Division of Forestry are cooperating to examine and evaluate aerial firefighting communications and the airspace structures over wildland fires. The agencies also are evaluating an electronic Advanced Navigation Display System (ANDS), developed by NASA's Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA, to aid aerial firefighters in their communications and operations. "This project potentially will help aerial commanders direct their assault on a wildland fire by simplifying, standardizing and reducing their verbal communications," said Ames' Vernol Battiste, the project's principal investigator and a former air traffic controller. "Loss of situational awareness by pilots in high workload situations often has disastrous consequences," he said. "Our research will assist firefighting agencies nationwide in identifying solutions that should reduce the cost of extinguishing fires and improve safety during aerial firefighting operations," added Battiste.

During the project's first phase, scheduled to begin in early August, in-cockpit, air-to-air, and air-to-ground communications will be recorded and pilot workload information will be collected. -more-2"This will be accomplished through use of minicameras installed in the cockpits of the aircraft, as well as through a post-flight questionnaire to be completed by the pilot and crew," said Hugh Carson, the Bureau of Land Management's Nevada aviation manager and project leader. Five firefighting aircraft based near Reno, NV, will be used during the data-gathering phase of the project. Participating aircraft include an OV-10 lead plane, a Commander 500 air attack aircraft, two P2V airtankers contracted from Neptune, Inc., Missoula, MT, and a Bell 204 helicopter from Idaho Helicopters. Along with audio-video recording capability, the prototype ANDS electronic display system also will be installed in each aircraft. The ANDS system shows the position of other firefighting aircraft, establishes an airspace structure graphically on the computer screen, identifies areas needing retardant or water drops and transmits those images to other aircraft. NASA researchers also will be testing integration of Forward-Looking Infrared technology with the navigation display. Participating companies that have loaned equipment to the project include Baker Electronics of Sarasota, FL, Landmark Technologies of San Jose, CA, Inframetrics of North Billerica, MA, and Dynametrics, Inc., of Las Vegas. The ANDS system uses Pentium-class computers, graphics displays utilizing CD-ROM moving maps, radio modems, and Global Positioning System signals to show each aircraft's position and provide two-way data communications between aircraft. Carson said the display's success will be highly

dependent upon whether it can assist the pilot or air tactical supervisor in his or her tasks. "It must be a human-aiding tool," Carson said. "This aspect of the project will be totally driven by user feedback. It has the potential to significantly reduce the need for verbal communications. However, if the pilots and air tactical supervisors don't like it or use it, it's not going to end up in our airplanes." Battiste said the human-machine interface of the ANDS system, and the challenges it presents in a high workload situation such as aerial firefighting, is a critical part of this study. According to Lanny Allmaras, national aerial attack systems specialist for the Forest Service at the National Interagency Fire Center, Boise, ID, the basic objective during this first phase of the project is to gather information about what actually goes on in and outside the cockpit of an aircraft during aerial firefighting operations.

-more-3"Communications issues are frequently brought up at many post-fire reviews, as well as at aerial firefighter meetings," Allmaras said. "Whether or not the hardware technology can assist us in doing a better job remains to be seen, but we welcome an outside look by NASA, a proven world leader in aeronautics, communications and human factors research." Under an interagency agreement signed last fall, the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service are responsible for providing NASA with sufficient data to accomplish its research. Tests and data collection during actual firefighting missions are expected to continue into the 1997 fire season. NASA will then make recommendations back to the fire agencies concerning communications, airspace structure,

training and the display system. The fire agencies will examine these recommendations, consider available funding, and decide on implementing the proposal. NOTE TO EDITORS: To arrange on-site interviews with the aerial firefighters, contact Cheryl Davis, Sierra Front Coordinator, Reno, NV, at 702/883-5995; or 702/721-3377. -endNASA press releases and other information are available automatically by sending an Internet electronic mail message to domo@hq.nasa.gov. In the body of the message (not the subject line) users should type the words "subscribe pressrelease" (no quotes). The system will reply with a confirmation via E-mail of each subscription. A second automatic message will include additional information on the service. NASA releases also are available via CompuServe using the command GO NASA.