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UW’s King Air Soars Above Wildfire for Research

September 29, 2016
view of smoke seen from airplane
King Air, UW’s research aircraft, was used for a study of a massive wildfire in Idaho this summer. (Nick Guy Photo)

A massive wildfire in Idaho was studied from a new vantage point thanks to the University of Wyoming’s research aircraft.

San Jose State University’s Fire Weather Research Laboratory tracked the Pioneer Fire in central Idaho from UW’s King Air research aircraft (N2UW). The King Air conducted research operations for nearly 11 hours over a two-day period, Aug. 29-30, between 16,000 and 27,000 feet for the RaDFIRE (Rapid Deployments to Wildfires) project.

Large wildfires modify the surrounding atmosphere, and a handful of studies have looked at these changes from the ground, but no data have been gathered from close proximity from the air until now. The UW research aircraft is outfitted with instruments, including the Wyoming Cloud Radar (WCR) and Wyoming Cloud Lidar, cutting-edge, remote-sensing instruments that complement in-situ observations at aircraft flight level.

“Wildfires present a unique challenge, with only limited understanding of when and where they will flare up, and for this reason, a rapid deployment mode of operation is important,” says Nick Guy, UW Department of Atmospheric Science associate research scientist. “The UW Flight Facility provides the flexibility to respond quickly, in addition to having a fully integrated suite of instruments on board.”

The WCR transmits microwave energy that is scattered back by the cloud and ash particles, allowing measurements of the strength and air motions of the plume, Guy says.

“Understanding these dynamics will provide firefighters a better understanding of these fires as well as allow more accurate forecasting in the future,” he adds.

The project is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and is led by Craig Clements at San Jose State University and David Kingsmill at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

Since it began July 18, the Pioneer Fire has burned nearly 190,000 acres.


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Chad Baldwin

Institutional Communications

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