The public could be forgiven for thinking UFOs had entered Christchurch airspace this week, as firefighters test new flying drones they say could help save lives.
The Canterbury Fire Service has bought two $25,000 unmanned aerial vehicles, with training planned at various city sites.
Effectively miniature helicopters, the Darley Stingers are designed to give fire command units ”a view from above” at fire, search and rescue scenes.
With an inbuilt global positioning system (GPS) and either a high-definition camera or thermal imager attached, they can help direct crews, find hot spots and search for survivors in anything from rubble to cliffs.
Firefighters testing them at the old AMI Stadium today said they were also relatively simply to fly.
”We’ve had a few broken propeller blades and some broken landing gear, but nothing too major,” senior firefighter Mike Yeates said.
”We’ll probably get a few reports of UFOs around the city as we try them out in different places,” he joked.
”Once you get over the fear of crashing it, it’s all good. It’s a great observation tool,” senior firefighter Wayne Hamilton said.
”I’ve flown those little helicopters around home before, but nothing to this extent. Once you get a go, this is a lot more stable and easy,” senior firefighter Bryan McGraw-Alcock said.
Canterbury fire region manager Brendan Nally said, depending how training went, he hoped to have the drones in regular use within a matter of months.
It was ”quite obvious” the machines would have helped rescue co-ordination after the February 22, 2011, earthquake, so if they proved their worth, other Fire Service regions may follow suit.
Mike Mocerino, of Chicago-based fire pump company W.S. Darley, said it had taken about two years to design and build the machines
Eventually they could be developed to carry a fire hose above a fire, and made ”so smart” they did not require a remote control, he said.
”You’ll be able to open a laptop, click on some points on a map and it will fly to those points without having to control the unit yourself.”
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