September 10, 2007 8:20 AM PDT
On September 7, NASA launched the Ikhana unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) from Dryden Air Force Base to take a series of smoke-free images from the Lick wildfire near Gilroy, Calif. After sending images of the Lick fire, the drone was flown over Oregon and Washington to observe 10 other fires before returning after a 20-hour mission.
Ikhana, the Choctaw Nation word for "intelligent," is a Predator B unmanned aircraft system which has been refit with scientific instruments. It is being flown out of NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards, Calif.
Drones have been extensively tested in various military applications. Now they are finding their way into multiple civilian usage scenarios. My prediction is that they will replace helicopters as high resolution air vehicles: from traffic monitoring to neighborhood policing to forest fired detection to geological research.