Using drones to create rainfall is an idea that’s been tested and reported on, but we haven’t heard much about it actually being implemented in the field—until now.
Toward the end of the summer, the approach was used in Chongqing, China to fight a series of devastating wildfires brought on by a historic heatwave.
Chongqing has a population of 31 million. In late August, wildfires spread quickly over the three mountain ranges in which the city is situated, threatening to engulf it
Over 20,000 people joined the firefighting operation in Chongqing. Many of them were volunteers from the city who pitched in to help fight the fire, chopping down trees to make firebreaks and taking risks to deliver materials and equipment by motorcycle to fire personnel on the frontlines.
In addition to this volunteer work, a huge fleet of drones was deployed to help in a variety of ways, including delivering food and water, providing aerial surveillance, and carrying supplies.
Drones were also used to make rain.
During the firefight huge, long-range drones flew high over the fire carrying bars of silver iodide. Once within the clouds the bars were ignited, forming water droplets that created artificial rainfall in a process called cloud-seeding.
The long-range drone deployed for cloud-seeding during the Chongqing fires is called the Wing Loong-2H. It was designed by a subsidiary of a defense contractor named AVIC, which is owned by the Chinese government.
Chongqing isn’t the only place in China where cloud-seeding was used this summer.
In Sichuan, two cloud-seeding drones were used to spread rain over an area of 2,317 square miles in an operation that took five days to help combat fires there. The first of these efforts created rainfall in just sixty minutes.China on Thursday used its self-developed Wing Loong-2H UAV to assist fight against drought in SW China’s Sichuan. The drone ignited 20 silver iodide flame bars during its 4-hour flight to create "artificial rain" for the drought-hit region.
Around the same time, cloud-seeding was also employed in Sichuan to avoid losing the harvest there due to drought. Using drones, rain was induced in the area to save the threatened crops.
CHINA’S HUGE DRONE FLEETS FOR FIGHTING WILDFIRES
In China, a variety of drones are deployed during wildfires, amounting to what has been called a “drone army” for firefighting. During the fires in Chongqing the full arsenal of China’s drone capabilities was on display, with an array of drones employed for a variety of firefighting work.
Here are all the ways that drones helped fight the wildfires in Chongqing.
Smaller delivery drones carried food and water to those involved in firefighting operations in Chongqing.
Also, large-load drones carried water pipes and emergency supplies to the frontlines of the fire fight. From there, some of these heavy lift drones were reloaded and deployed to specific destinations to bring the exact supplies needed to those helping with the firefight.
Monitoring and Surveillance
Drones equipped with thermal cameras were used to find potential hot spots, detect on-fire sites, monitor residual fires, and look out for places where the fire was in danger of reigniting.
Drones were also used for surveillance, watching the fire’s path and helping firefighters coordinate their efforts in real time, both at night and during the day.
Live visual and thermal feeds from drones were transmitted back to a tactical command center for the firefighting operation using 5G networking, allowing for real-time tracking of the fire’s movements to support emergency response coordination.
Search and Rescue
Drones equipped with visual and thermal sensors were used to look for and save people trapped or lost during the fires, helping save lives.
Drop fire retardant “BOMBS” by drone
Drones were used to “bomb” burning areas with fire retardants, dropping small containers filled with chemicals designed to help put out fires.
Large, long-range drones were used for cloud-seeding over the fires, dousing them with artificial rainfall.