Drones will not be used this wildfire season

As the dry weather sets and the wildfire season beckons, Washington state won’t have an aerial drone to help combat the expected blazes, but drones tested off of Grays Harbor could be used in the future.

Earlier this year, the state Department of Natural Resources considered obtaining an unmanned aircraft to test during this year’s wildfire season, even discussing the possibility with the FAA, which has to give approval to launch a drone.

Those plans won’t materialize this summer. However, the agency’s interest in using drones remains.

Wildfire officials say drones can fly in conditions dangerous to human pilots, don’t get fatigued and can fly for longer.

DNR would have been one of the first non-law enforcement agencies in the state to purchase and operate a drone.

A group of Washington organizations, including some from Grays Harbor, have submitted a proposal for a drone research and testing facility in Washington. If successful, the proposal will result in the FAA naming the Pacific Northwest Unmanned Aerial Systems Flight Center as one of six U.S. testing facilities later this year.

The proposal provides a testing range over the Pacific Ocean near Grays Harbor for those developers needing “blue water” testing capability.

The final decisions on siting the flight center are scheduled to be made before December 31, 2013.

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