Israeli defense firm Elbit debuts system for firefighting from high altitude

‘HyDrop’ technology allows for aerial sorties at night, works with cargo planes and helicopters and is safer for pilots, company says

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

A plane releases fire-extinguishing pellets using Elbit's HyDrop high-altitude firefighting technology. (YouTube screenshot)
A plane releases fire-extinguishing pellets using Elbit's HyDrop high-altitude firefighting technology. (YouTube screenshot)

Israeli security firm Elbit on Tuesday said it had successfully tested a new system for fighting fires from a high altitude.

They system, which the company calls “HyDrop,” proved its effectiveness recently in a field demonstration during an exercise with the Israel Fire and Rescue Authority, the company said.

HyDrop is “an innovative solution enabling high-altitude high-precision aerial firefighting,” the company said. It uses pellets instead of liquid, and guides aircraft to a specific release point for an accurate drop.

During the recent demonstration, two firefighting aircraft extinguished a burning field from an altitude of 500 feet, over four times higher than the current average altitude for firefighting sorties.

With the HyDrop system, the two aircraft each released 1.6 tons of 140-gram biodegradable liquid pellets, which were guided by a computed ballistic trajectory to precisely hit their target, with a saturation of one to two liters of liquid per square meter.

In a recent test, a fixed-wing aircraft dropped 95 percent of its payload on its target from an altitude of some 152 meters (500 feet).

Since the 1950s, aerial firefighting has used liquid cascades, which requires drops from altitudes of 100-120 feet, and can only be carried out during daylight hours due to low-altitude safety regulations, Elbit said. Flying in rough terrain and smoky conditions can be dangerous for pilots and crew. The company’s new system can be used from altitudes of about 150 to 915 meters (500-3,000 feet), a height deemed safe for night-flight by authorities.

HyDrop uses technology, including some developed for fighter aircraft, to navigate to a precise drop point, with a ballistic computer calculating a launch trajectory, factoring in velocity, altitude, GPS location, wind and the dimensions of the liquid pellets.

The pellets are launched from special dispensers in conventional cargo aircraft, or from sling loaders or belly tanks attached to cargo or utility helicopters.

The system includes a machine that fits into a standard shipping container and can manufacture up to 10 tons of pellets per hour, which can be filled with water, foam or fire retardant. The pellets are safe for people and property on the ground, even on impact, the company said.

Elbit is Israel’s largest non-government-owned defense company.

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