There have been unmanned aircraft specifically helicopters developed by companies to fly in dangerous areas and at night in Afghanistan. Two companies who have developed such aircraft are Boeing and Kaman Aerospace. The Unmanned Little Bird demonstrator, which Boeing built from a civilian MD 530F, first flew on September 8, 2004, and made its first autonomous flight (with safety pilot) on October 16, 2004.The Kmax helicopter has been produced by Kaman Aerospace and programmed for pilotless flying by Lockheed Martin for dangerous missions in Afghanistan.
Author Jordan Golson's article in Wired magazine, "Military’s Self Flying Helicopter Gets Modded to Fight Wildfires," covers this new technology. According to Golson, "Lockheed and Kaman took the K-MAX to an FAA drone test facility in upstate New York to demonstrate its capabilities for experts from the Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Land Management, and the Forest Service, the folks who manage much of the land that’s especially susceptible to wildfires.”
Golson also reported, “One thing a human can do that the K-MAX cannot is actually spot flames. So Lockheed gave the helicopter a partner: A five-pound quadcopter called the Indago, which used an infrared camera to locate the (controlled) fire and report back to a control center. Then the K-MAX, lugging a bucket that can hold hundreds of gallons of water, spent an hour flying dropping more than 2,800 gallons of water on the fire, with trips to a nearby pond for refills.”
What do you think about the potential for this new tool for wildland firefighting?