Black Swift Techologies' drones will carry sensors to provide measurements of wildfire plumes and properties. Photo illustration courtesy Dan Lack.

NOAA picks Black Swift’s drones to collect wildfire data

BOULDER — Black Swift Technologies, an engineering firm based in Boulder, was selected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to use its small unmanned aircraft system, or sUAS, to collect wildfire measurements.

The project, called NightFOX, will support NOAA’s FIREX field mission and fire weather forecasting initiative.

Black Swift will provide an airframe, avionics and multiple sensors that will collect data on carbon dioxide, aerosol, wildfire plumes and other measurements.

The sUAS will be operated by the University of Colorado’s Integrated Remote & In Situ Sensing program, or IRISS, in collaboration with NOAA.

The sUAS that Black Swift is using, called the SuperSwift, is ideal for scientific atmospheric measurements because of its ability to fly for more than two hours, the payload capacity to hold up to five pounds and its ability to hold its payload forward-facing, making it easy to swap out instruments.

The observations will be done at nighttime. Due to safety concerns, manned flights can only be done in the daytime. Using unmanned aircraft systems is safer and can collect measurements on chemical makeup and plume shape and size.

“NOAA is interested in a UAS observational system (UASOS) that can use be used for fire-related measurements, and so in a sense what we want to know is when and where does the fire flow and ultimately what kind of fire and air quality will result regionally,” said Ru-Shan Gao, principal investigator at NOAA, in a statement. “We want to monitor the fire and incorporate the remote and in situ measurements into a fire forecast model so ultimately we’ll be able to do better fire forecasts that will help firefighters better fight the fire and keep human and property losses to a minimum.”

Earlier this week, it was announced that Black Swift’s drones will be used to carry sensors developed by CU engineers in a project to measure water moisture at a test irrigation farm in Yuma.