UAS Academy held at Tall Timbers trained participants in aerial ignition operations

Tall Timbers hosted the first-ever National UAS (Unmanned Aerial System/drones) Ignition Academy, sponsored by the National Interagency Prescribed Fire Training Center (PFTC), and the National UAS Program February 28-March 4, 2022. The training is designed to instruct UAS operators in aerial ignition operations. The Southeast US is an ideal site for this academy due to the year-round burning programs of multiple agencies, complex airspace, broad prescription windows, and the high level of interagency cooperation.

Students during classroom portion of the Academy.


Tall Timbers an ideal location for Ignition Academy

Tall Timbers was the perfect site to offer a variety of field experiences with prescription, planning procedures, diverse landscape and room to maneuver, allowing for an accelerated learning opportunity for participants. Following the week at Tall Timbers, the students, with mentor cadre, split into four modules and dispersed across the Southeast to federally managed sites to practice the skills gained.

Kelly Boyd, National UAS Ignition Specialist for the US Forest Service and course coordinator for this academy, stated that Tall Timbers was “an ideal location for immersive learning. It offers opportunities to teach students, then show students, then have them train to it.” He also commented that this location was the first that he had worked with that allowed classroom to flight area within walking distance. The plan for the future is to hold this academy annually at Tall Timbers for students from the southeast. He said, “I now have what right looks like (in referencing Tall Timbers), and I’ll be looking for something similar in western states.”

Drone on pad with students.

Participants in the academy were occupied using a number of different drones with the Ignis system for dropping fire. Tall Timbers’ staff worked with the academy to delineate flight areas on the Station as well as presented on ignition strategies to meet resource objectives. The ultimate outcome is to give UAS aerial ignition trainees the foundation for qualification as an Aerial Ignition Pilot.

Steering the drone during an afternoon exercise.

Drone being flown in for a landing.

Over the course of the three-week academy, candidates will gain confidence to conduct aerial ignition missions and become subject matter experts benefitting their local, regional, and national programs. They will experience multiple days of hands-on UAS Aerial Ignition burning in the wildland-urban-interface (WUI), in a variety of diverse fuels, supporting different agencies with unique management objectives under the guidance of coaching and mentorship from qualified UAS Aerial Ignition pilots.

As the modules left to practice the skills learned, a number of the participants commented on how perfect Tall Timbers had been for this academy. PFTC and Tall Timbers look forward to the next opportunity to share this fire-maintained landscape for training.

The Academy participants on the final day of training at Tall Timbers.

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