Remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS), commonly known as drones, are not often associated with the Fire Brigade however they serve an important function for firefighting and rescue services, providing integral information which assists in the prevention, preparation, and recovery phases of field operations. They may also be used following major incidents such as bushfires or floods to provide real-time data for pre-incident planning and to assess damages. As a modern piece of equipment, drones highlight the impact of technology on the development of firefighting practices and therefore represent an important piece of FRNSW history.
On 23 July 2020, the Museum welcomed the first FRNSW drone ‘RPAS01 BEAR’ into our Collection. The DJI Inspire 1 model drone was commissioned into service in July 2015 and was aptly named after William Douglas Bear who was the first ‘Chief’ of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) from 1884 to 1898. Whilst the position of Chief Officer had not yet been created, Bear held the highest rank within the MFB as Superintendent, equivalent to FRNSW’s Commissioner rank. Subsequent drones were named according to this convention, but the practice came to an end once the number of units surpassed the number of ex-Chief Officers/Commissioners.
Pictured: Chief Remote Pilot LF Anthony Wallgate and Maintenance Controller SF Onur Ayyildiz of the FRNSW Technical Operations Aviation Team officially hand over the ‘RPAS01 BEAR’ to the Museum’s Interim CEO Belinda McMartin and Collection Manager Laura Anderson.
During its five years of service, ‘RPAS01 BEAR’ saw a total of 78.35 hours in the air, piloted by members of the FRNSW Technical Operations Aviation Team. Fitted with a camera that could capture still shots up to 12.8 megapixels and high definition video footage (up to 4K), the small manoeuvrable machine weighing a total of 2.935kg including the battery was an innovative piece of equipment that boasted a wide range of capabilities to assist in firefighting efforts.
The drone could be operated from a distance of up to 500 metres, as long as the unit remained within the visual line of sight (VLOS) of the pilot, as specified by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority. The onboard camera allowed units to also be piloted by first person view, although a spotter would be required to keep it within VLOS. If the unit lost contact with the controller while in flight, the ‘return to home’ safety function would have been initiated. Similarly, the unit would ‘return to home’ if the battery ran low or else make an emergency automatic landing if on critical battery.
Fortunately, ‘RPAS01 BEAR’ has found its new home at the Museum and so will not have to use this ‘return to home’ safety feature again! It is hoped that we will soon be able to prepare a display fit for the unit’s retirement.
Pictured: ‘RPAS01 BEAR’ is wheeled to the Museum in a FRNSW-built field kit which houses the controllers and relevant equipment.
-Laura Anderson, Museum of Fire Curator