Responsive Aerial Firefighting Aircraft Design; The Availability of Wildfire Panic Information as a Balance of Transparency Ethics

Orrico, S Joseph, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Quinlan, Jesse, EN-Mech/Aero Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Ferguson, Sean, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

As the planet’s climate continues to change and the number of wildfires increases, ever larger threats to life and property both within the United States and around the world are posed. Researchers believe this trend will continue for at least 50-100 years, and the technology to combat these wildfires will adapt appropriately. There has never been a better time to design and produce specialized aircraft for wildfire response, as many of the current aeronautical firefighting solutions are out dated and utilized for military or commercial needs as well. The following technical and STS theses explore ways to develop these state-of-the-art firefighting machines and explore their intersection with society.

The technical thesis is a design proposal for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Backgrounds, general requirements and design objectives were proposed by the AIAA as a set of guidelines to base the design of a responsive aerial firefighting aircraft around. In addition to meeting requirements and objectives set forth by the AIAA such as entry into service date, fire retardant capacity, etc., the aircraft possesses electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) camera capabilities with the goal of sharing live data regarding the wildfire with the public via a conveniently accessible online dashboard. Specific capabilities of this system would include, but would not be limited to, providing overwatch for specific interests on a wildfire, detecting spot fires or new fires, providing support for a ground operation, monitoring impingement of trigger points, identifying location and amount of residual heat during mop-up phase, and fire mapping. This data would be shared simultaneously as the aircraft is actually combating a fire via multiple 8,000-gallon retardant drops before reload. With access to this data, the hope is that the interested public would be safer and more prepared to deal with the impending doom of a rogue wildfire coming in contact with their community.

The STS Thesis utilizes the framework of public and citizen engagement to draw conclusions from multiple examples of natural disasters and crisis situations that are then used to construct an optimal pathway for the public, those alienated from dominant political or knowledge regimes in this context, to receive data in the event of a wildfire. There is reason to believe that this shared data would cause mass chaos and panic amongst populations experiencing civic dislocation: a mismatch between what government institutions are supposed to do for the public, and what they actually do. To minimize this effect, the proposed wildfire data reception system and dashboard is based around the maximized involvement of the public in its creation. Regarding both theses, all was achieved that was set out to do. A successfully designed aircraft and a proposed solution for “panic data” sharing with relevance to wildfires.

I would like to thank Professor Dana Elzey for teaching me that often times the intangible things we encounter in life are of the greatest value. I would also like to thank my Dad for his unwavering support on my journey to becoming an Aerospace Engineer

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Responsive Aerial Firefighting Aircraft Design; The Availability of Wildfire Panic Information as a Balance of Transparency Ethics, S Joseph Orrico, Orrico, Joe Orrico, AIAA Competition, Aerospace Engineering
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