Kowanyama Rangers Assist with Trailblazing Drone Technology

Sep 23, 2022

The Kowanyama Aboriginal Shire Council (KASC) Rangers joined a specialist operation last month to trial the use of drones for aerial burning.

Rangers learning the details of keeping a fire drone in operation. Travis Gilbo (L) loading incendiary devices into the drone’s hopper while the rest of the team watch how the automated flight paths are set out. L-R: Justin, Zian, Anzac, 3FB Aerworx pilots.

The first operation in Queensland of its kind, the purpose of the project was to test how effective drones are at lighting fires compared with helicopters.

“I’m particularly proud that it was the first operation in Queensland to use drones for this purpose, even ahead of the government departments such as Parks and Forests,” Fire and Carbon Operations Contractor, Daryl Killin of Tropical Forest Tree Pty Ltd said.

The 3FB Aerworx Drone visited Oriners from Ringwood, VIC. Their two CASA-qualified pilots were supported by Daryl’s team, alongside the Kowanyama Rangers and Traditional Owner Clarita Frank (Wongi).

The large drone has eight motors and blades and can hold up to 400 incendiaries called ‘Dragon Eggs.’ 3FB Aerworx’s pilots carefully map out the drone’s course on a tablet, with the drone dropping Dragon Eggs, similarly to a small helicopter.

All the operations were carefully monitored by the two accredited pilots who were also flying a smaller drone alongside the fire-bombing drone and taking video footage. Daryl utilised a map of fire scars to find gaps in the burning completed in June and July, identifying places near Flying Fox Lagoon and alongside the Sefton Road that required additional burning.

KASC Scientific Support Officer John Brisbin said, “The experiment with the drones was overall successful. The Rangers and Clarita learnt a lot about getting high-tech equipment into the field and the problems that can come with it.”

Dayrl noted, “It was particularly heart-warming to see Clarita, a strong Traditional Owner, taking up the cause of her father and stepping into the role with such interest, participation and enthusiasm.”

The drone burnt a total of 8km2, dropping 1,333 incendiaries, demonstrating their range and endurance in real-world conditions. “Whilst we’re a number of years away from drones being deployed to standard operations, it was good for the rangers to see the state of drone tech when it comes to lighting fires in Australia,” Daryl said.

A huge thanks goes to 3FB Aerworx, Tropical Forest Tree Pty Ltd, and Daryl Killin for educating the Rangers and allowing them to be the first crew in Queensland to get hands-on experience utilising this cutting-edge technology.