U.S. Forest Service Fleet Adds King Air 260s

Two modified Beechcraft King Air 260s will perform wildfire mapping missions.

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) now has two new aerial tools to use in its battle against the tens of thousands of wildfires that char the nation every year. 

Textron Aviation (NYSE: TXT) announced last week it has delivered two Beechcraft King Air 260s to the USFS for wildfire mapping missions. 

Infrared (IR) technology aboard the modified King Air 260s will enable wildfire mapping at night and through smoke—data which can be critical to tanker pilots in the air and firefighters on the ground. Timely information about precisely where a fire is located and which direction the flames are spreading can mean the difference between destruction of life and property and getting the fire under control. 

Overwatch Imaging’s TK-9 system payload. [Courtesy: Overwatch Imaging]

Aircraft outfitted with IR technology can also detect small fires that have been recently ignited by lightning strikes. 

The new aircraft are just the latest chapter in the King Air’s storied history. Since 1964, more than 7,700 King Airs have come off the line for delivery, according to Textron, which describes the King Air series as the best-selling business turboprop in the world. In fact, Textron says during its nearly 60 years of service, the worldwide fleet has logged more than 62 million flight hours.

For years, the USFS has used Beech King Air 90s and 200s for lead airplane aerial supervision missions, coordinating, directing, and evaluating air tanker operations. Pilots in these roles communicate with firefighters on the ground, as well as other firefighting aircraft, including air tanker pilots. Typically, lead aircraft release white smoke markers for airtanker pilots’ use in dropping fire retardant. 

About the Aircraft

Equipment aboard the King Air 260 wildfire mapping aircraft includes:

  • Beechcraft’s Innovative Solutions & Support (IS&S) ThrustSense Autothrottle system
  • A Collins Multi-Scan RTA-4112 weather radar system
  • A digital pressurization controller, which automatically schedules cabin pressurization during both climb and descent
  • Pressurization gauges that have been integrated with the Collins Aerospace Pro Line Fusion flight deck
An example of multispectral imagery from Overwatch Imaging’s TK-9. [Courtesy: Overwatch Imaging]

IR heat sensing technology aboard the USFS King Airs includes the TK-9 Earthwatch Airborne Sensor manufactured by Overwatch Imaging. The TK-9 can track wildfires using multispectral imagery, including:

  • Short-wavelength infrared (SWIR)
  • Near-infrared (NIR)
  • Visual 
  • Medium-wavelength infrared (MWIR)
  • Long-wavelength infrared (LWIR)

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