You can take off your tin foil helmet now. The U.S. Forest Service has done what countless Americans before it have done: backed down in the face of governmental red tape. The agency had planned to use remotely piloted aircraft during this wildfire season, but ran into the buzzsaw that is Federal Aviation Administration regulations.
The FAA requires drones to remain within sight of the pilot at all times — not something the military has to worry about — which would be problematic when flying into a billowing column of wildfire smoke.
“Getting FAA approval to fly one is a lengthy process,” Forest Service Northern Region spokesman Phil Sammon said recently. “It takes too long to make it practical for a two- or three-week occurrence.”
The Forest Service isn’t going to use drones for other aerial work, either. Fire mapping, spotting, and forest surveys all require extended air time that exceeds the capabilities of non-military drones, unlike the “Reaper” shown at left.