Boeing has been awarded a patent for an idea, which could change the way we fight forest fires.
Boeing was awarded the US patent for a fire fighting bullet, which would be fired out of a gun towards a fire and releases a fire-retarding material, such as a foam, to help extinguish a fire.
Several different iterations of the artillery shell, which could be fired from a Howitzer field gun, were described in the patent. One ’embodiment’ comprises an artillery shell configured to be fired out of the gun. ‘The artillery shell includes an external surface, a cavity, a fire-retarding material, and a trigger. The cavity is within the external surface. The fire-retarding material is disposed within the cavity. The trigger is configured to release the fire-retarding material.’
The Boeing shell is designed to detonate in front of a forest fire, spreading retardant materials on the ground to prevent the fire from progressing, or to detonate directly above it which would dampen the flames.
The Boeing patent outlines the reasoning for the creation of the fire-retarding shell, stating that previous methods of dropping water or fire-retarding material onto fires was typically done by aircraft such as helicopters and airplanes. However the aerospace giant said this method was an inadequate way to control forest fires due to the slow delivery of the fire-retarding material.
According to the Boeing patent: ‘In order to establish an aircraft-delivered firebreak for a relatively small 28 acre fire, it would take approximately 7.6 hours to deliver a required 6,469 gallons (24,487 litres) of fire-retarding material. During the 7.6 hour time period, the relatively small 28 acre fire has potential to grow and burn an estimated 100 acres of land.’
Boeing states that an improved system, such as the one put forward in their patent, is needed to fight forest and other types of fires.
Practicality and cost of fire fighting bullet needs to be tested
But while it may sound like a fantastic idea in theory, editor-in-chief of Wildfire Today and veteran firefighter, Bill Gabbert, said he doubted the practicality of Boeing’s creation.
“Boeing didn’t estimate the cost of these artillery shells,” he said. “If you’re shooting tens of thousands of them, the costs would be prohibitive.”
According to Newatlas.com, existing unguided artillery shells, such as those for a Howitzer field gun, cost around $1,000 each.
Gabbert also questioned the premise that the artillery shell would completely extinguish fires.
“But retardant applied from the air does not put out fires, in the best of circumstances, it can slow them down so that firefighters on the ground can get close and put them out,” he said. “Just that last fact invalidates the whole concept in my mind.”
However, the information contained in the Boeing patent didn’t suggest that the fire fighting bullet would replace the need for firefighters on the ground, just improve the delivery of air support.
Boeing would not comment on the practicality of the fire fighting bullet. A Boeing spokesperson did however respond and said that the awarding of the patent did not necessarily mean that Boeing will be developing the concept or design in the near future.