17:25 PM

Calif. Wing Aircrews Applying New Technology to Wildfire Photography Mission

Sensor System Improves Image Quality

The California Wing is using new technology to help document the devastation from deadly October wildfires in California.

It’s called an Aeroptic Sensor Pod, a leading-edge tactical aerial imagery system attached to one of the wing’s Cessna 182s. The sensor system provides rapid access to visual and multispectral data of the damage wrought by the wildfires, which, according to California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection reports, have destroyed 8,900 structures and claimed 43 lives.

“The Aeroptic Sensor we have as a demo for 45 days was installed by Ivan Air to support a test last week,” said John Desmarais, CAP’s director of operations.

The imagery mosaic provided by the new camera system has been well received by Federal Emergency Management Agency staff, and they have asked us to re-fly several areas,” Desmaris said,

CAP aircrews in California are flying again this week, as most of the fires are starting to be contained.

“This imagery from the plane equipped with the Aeroptic Sensor, as well as photos previously taken with the wing’s traditional Garmin VIRB cameras, will still be needed to assist with determining access to federal assistance,” Desmarais said.

The California Wing has been supporting FEMA’s recovery efforts at the behest of 1st Air Force, operating from a temporary incident command post at Livermore Municipal Airport to accommodate aerial imagery flights to the areas of the Combined Fire in Santa Rosa and Northern California, then moving to Riverside Municipal Airport to photograph the area affected by the Southern Fires in Orange County in Southern California.


The CAP photographic coverage in California has resulted in about 140 flights over the past 11 days, providing roughly 6,000 photos using the VIRB cameras, mounted under the wing of several CAP aircraft.

“All feedback I have received directly from FEMA is that they are very happy with our work and the product we have been supplying them,” said Lt. Col. Joe Brickman, operations director for the California Wing. “Our photos have been instrumental in helping FEMA make their damage assessments of these burn areas.”

Both CAP and FEMA officials believe will provide the next generation of aerial photos.

”The Aeroptic Sensor is mounted on the step of the right strut of the aircraft,” Brickman said. “The camera can be flown at varying altitudes, ranging from 2,000 to 5,000 feet, depending on the ground covered. The camera imagery is also orthorectified (adjusted to eliminate any distortion) to make it easier for FEMA to analyze the data and … be more effective for their damage assessment.”

Flying with the Aeroptic Sensor Pod does require some practice, Brickman said, adding that aircrews from the California Wing are “humbled” to be the first to test the new system and to participate in the mission.

“The devastating fires here in California have affected everyone in some way, but we all came together to do our part,” he said. “Everyone is working to achieve one goal — to help FEMA support the communities that have been so devastated. I am so proud of the airmen of the California Wing.”