Unmanned Aircraft System Pilot

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UASP Incident Position Description

NOTE: This Incident Position Description (IPD) is under development. Learn more about IPDs and other NWCG improvement efforts on our Systems Improvement Page. Please contribute to this effort by providing feedback via the Comment button on this page.


The Unmanned Aircraft Systems Pilot provides data to tactical and strategic decision makers and is responsible for flying, managing, and coordinating Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) missions on wildland fire incidents. The UASP reports to the Air Operations Branch Director (AOBD) or other assigned supervisor. The UASP works in the Air Operations functional area.
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Prepare and Mobilize

  • Ensure individual readiness.
  • Obtain and assemble information and materials needed for kit. 
    • Crew/Pilot/UAS credentials (pilot/aircraft cards, Red Card, etc.).
    • Airspace authorization requirement (Part 107, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Military Operations Area (MOA), Special Government Interest Waiver (SGI), Notice to Airmen (NOTAM), etc.).
    • UAS and sensors. 
    • Hardware and software.
    • Communications equipment (AM/FM radios)/cellular/satellite phones.
    • GIS data (base maps). 
    • UAS support equipment.
  • Validate UAS/sensor capabilities.
    • Appropriate UAS platform for the mission.
    • Appropriate sensors for the mission.
  • Gather critical information pertinent to the assignment:
    • Resource Order.
    • Special needs (UAS/hardware/software).
    • Transportation/lodging arrangements.
    • Frequencies, contacts, assigned aerial resources.
    • Airspace designation (Class, Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR), Special Use, etc.).
  • Make appropriate notifications.
  • Check-in at assigned base of operations and with supervisor.
    • Verify chain of command.
    • Discuss communication protocols/procedures.
    • Determine final data product(s), delivery location, and delivery time/method.
    • Review Incident Action Plan (IAP) and obtain briefing, objectives, and intent from supervisor.

Build the Team

  • Establish and communicate chain of command, reporting procedures, and risk management processes.
  • Establish a common operating picture with supervisor and subordinates.
  • Establish team cohesiveness using Crew Resource Management (CRM). 

Lead, Supervise, Direct

  • Model leadership values and principles. Provide positive influence. Emphasize teamwork.
  • Establish and communicate objectives, priorities, work assignments, and performance expectations.
  • Identify, analyze, and use relevant situational information to make more decisions that are informed and take appropriate actions.
  • Adjust actions based on changing information and evolving situation awareness. Develop and implement contingency plans. Communicate changing conditions to assigned resources and supervisor.

Perform Unmanned Aircraft Systems Pilot-Specific Duties

  • Plan and conduct UAS Operations in accordance with:
  • Coordinate UAS missions with aerial resources and ground personnel.
  • Recon area of responsibility and assess feasibility of assigned objectives.
  • Use maps, compass, Global Positioning System (GPS), and other tools and applications to gather information and navigate on incident.
  • Implement UAS mission based on incident objectives, fire behavior, risk assessment and leader's intent.
  • Coordinate travel to and from fireline (e.g., travel routes, check-in with Division Supervisor, communication procedures, accountability).
  • Perform UAS mission in accordance with NWCG Standards for Fire Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations, PMS 515.
  • Ensure pre-takeoff responsibilities are completed.
  • Perform UAS mission.
  • Validate UAS/sensor capabilities.
  • Ensure UAS preparation/pilot preflight responsibilities are completed.
  • Calculate mission altitude.
  • Perform after takeoff tasks.
  • Monitor compliance with agency aviation regulations.
  • Collect and process data.
  • Perform post mission procedures.
  • Identify and plan for logistical support needs.

Planning Duties

  • Calculate amount and type of additional resources required; obtain through established ordering procedures.
  • Provide UAS specific information to appropriate planning section personnel. Include input into Assignment List (ICS 204) and Air Operations Summary (ICS 220).

Communicate and Coordinate

  • Ensure clear understanding of expectations and timely communication within and across Incident Command System (ICS) functional areas and chain of command.
  • Communicate effectively using multichannel radios. Prepare and program radios for assignment. Ensure effective radio communications when assigned resources are using multiple frequencies during incident operations. Use plain language and ICS terminology.
  • Establish communications and exchange necessary briefings/information with the following:
    • Air Support resources.
    • Other ICS functional areas.
  • Ensure remote pilot, visual observer (VO), and mission pertinent personnel are briefed on the mission.
  • Communicate with air and ground resources on incidents of variable complexity in order to safely fly UAS in the fire environment in conjunction with other aircraft.
  • Conduct and/or participate in After Action Reviews.
  • Utilize common terminology and brevity with dispatch, ground resources, and other aircraft.
    • Coordinate with assigned aircraft.
    • Status of special use airspace (TFR, restricted areas, etc.).
    • Coordinate with responding air resources on the assigned frequency as appropriate.
    • Coordinate with ground resources on the assigned frequencies.
    • Maintain communication with dispatch and monitor assigned frequencies. 

Manage Risk

  • Apply the Risk Management Process as stated in the Incident Response Pocket Guide (IRPG), PMS 461:
    • Identify Hazards
    • Assess Hazards
    • Develop Controls and Make Risk Decisions
    • Implement Controls
    • Supervise and Evaluate
  • Ensure Lookouts, Communications, Escape Routes, and Safety Zones (LCES) are established and known to all personnel before they are needed. Refer to guidelines stated in the IRPG.
  • Account for location, health, safety, and welfare of assigned personnel.
  • Use Look Up, Down and Around in the IRPG to help maintain situational awareness. Adjust actions accordingly.
  • Apply the Standard Firefighting Orders and Watch Out Situations to your assignment, as stated in the IRPG.
  • Monitor personnel for signs and symptoms of fatigue, illness, or injury. Mitigate appropriately.
  • Plan for medical emergencies. Ensure that assigned resources are prepared to execute the Medical Plan (ICS 206 WF). Ensure familiarity with medical responders, communication procedures, and transportation plan. Manage the medical emergency based on procedures stated in the IAP, the IRPG Medical Incident Report, or other relevant guidelines.
  • Conduct a mission safety briefing.
  • Ensure safety of flight by utilizing the following principles: 
    • Visual Sight Rules (See and Avoid).
    • Fire Traffic Area Protocol.
    • Vertical and Horizontal Separation.
    • Coordinated Altimeter Settings.
    • TCAS and Transponders.
    • AM and FM Communication.
    • Situational Awareness.
    • Visual Observer. 
  • Follow established mission procedures.
  • Identify and appropriately act on hazardous situations.
  • Watch for hazardous flight conditions and shut down aviation operations when necessary.



  • Plan for demobilization. Brief assigned resources on demobilization procedures and responsibilities. Ensure incident and agency demobilization procedures and work/rest driving standards are followed.
  • Return equipment and supplies to appropriate unit.
  • Complete demobilization checkout process before being released from the incident.
  • Upon demobilization, report status to home unit including reassignment or estimated time of arrival (ETA) to home unit. 
  • Anticipate demobilization, identify excess resources, coordinate and prepare demobilization schedule, and communicate with supervisor.
  • During transfer of command:
    • Ensure continuity of operations.
    • Exchange critical safety information.
    • Communicate transfer of authority through established chain of command.


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