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AMSL Aero to modify Vertiia electric VTOLs for firefighting

written by Jake Nelson | February 19, 2024

AMSL Aero says the Vertiia electric VTOL has applications for emergency services as well as passenger and cargo transport. (Image: AMSL Aero)

AMSL Aero will use a $3 million government grant to develop an autonomous version of its Vertiia electric VTOL that can be used to fight bushfires.

The funding from the Cooperative Research Centres’ Projects program will be used to create a method for using remotely piloted electric VTOLs for aerial firefighting, modify a prototype Vertiia, ensure regulatory requirements are met, and test the Vertiia in regional Australia.

“We will develop a version of Vertiia that enables Rural Fire Service crews to prevent and put out fires remotely, using swarms of autonomous aircraft, like a hi-tech flying bucket-brigade that can operate day and night, radically improving crew safety and significantly reducing crew fatigue,” said AMSL Aero CEO Max York.

“Vertiia’s compelling unit economics also mean we can operate more aircraft in more places, and because Vertiia is long range and zero emissions, it gives us the ability to stay on task longer and means we are not contributing to the climate change problems that are leading to more fires.”

The firefighting Vertiia will aim to be capable of spraying fire retardant and drop “hundreds of litres” of water, with AMSL Aero co-founder and chief engineer Andrew Moore saying it will enable nighttime firefighting and keep crews safe.

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“Although aerial firefighting is effective, high human costs and the current limit of daylight operating are significant drawbacks. Congested airspace, reduced visibility around fires, and the use of older aircraft create hazardous operating conditions,” he said.

“We will work diligently with our partners to improve safety while at the same time increasing the availability, scalability, and effectiveness of aerial firefighting.”

AMSL is working with aviation firefighting operator Pays Air Service on the project, which Pays managing director Ross Pay says will not “replace pilots doing what we do”, largely because of load sizes.

“What will be invaluable is working the aircraft together so firefighters on the ground have continued support while we are reloading, and they will be able to get in close to the fire in difficult conditions using Vertiias,” he said.

“The biggest advantage will be the ability to continue to fight fires at nighttime and assist the ground crews throughout the night.”

AMSL Aero last year received a $5.43 million ARENA grant to develop hydrogen fuel cells for Vertiia, which it says will have applications including emergency services as well as passenger and cargo transport.

Listen to our podcast interview with CareFlight CEO Mick Frewen, discussing how the aeromedical charity’s partnership with AMSL Aero on Vertiia will enable it to deliver better services.

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