National Wildfire Coordinating Group

Mission Planning and Mobilization

Incident UAS missions may be conducted by agency owned and operated UAS or contractor/cooperator owned and operated UAS. There is an on-call UAS Coordinator available to answer questions regarding ordering procedures, UAS capabilities as well as overhead needed – UASP, Unmanned Aircraft System, Data Specialist (UASD), Unmanned Aircraft System, Manager (UASM), or Unmanned Aircraft System, Module Leader (UASL). The ordering unit can contact the UAS Fire Coordinator at 208-387-5335. For specifics on how to order UAS, please see NIFC UAS ordering.

Planning Considerations

  1. Objective: What is the data objective for the mission: e.g., photos, video, SA, mapping, thermal, or infrared (IR)?
  2. Size: What is the mission area?
  3. Endurance: Consider length of mission, distance from launch area, and area of availability.
  4. Aircraft performance: Consider operating environment, payload, density altitude, and terrain in which operations are conducted.
  5. Maneuverability: It is essential that the UAS can be positioned to meet mission observation requirements. Multi-rotors are excellent for SA on the fireline.
  6. UAS Launch and Recovery Zone (LRZ): Mission requirements may necessitate the need for a designated launch and recover zone (Type 1 or Type 2 operations).
  7. Terrain: Can the UAS maintain link with the Ground Control Station (GCS)?
  8. Communications: Consider the capability to effectively monitor and transmit on AM and FM frequencies. Do not fly a mission if you can’t communicate with air and ground resources.
  9. Data sharing: How will data be delivered to decision makers? Internet connectivity is key.
  10. Incident operational tempo/complexity: Check before requesting clearance to fly. The UAS mission may not be a priority.


  1. Obtain a resource order prior to mobilization.
  2. Ensure vendor crews are ordered as required/requested.
  3. Initiate contact with ordering unit (IC, Operations Section Chief [OSC], Air Operations Branch Director [AOBD], etc.).
  4. Determine the data objective (final data product) for the incident.
  5. Identify the UAS Module (vendor or agency activation):
    1. Unmanned Aircraft System, Module Leader (UASL).
    2. Unmanned Aircraft System, Pilot (UASP).
    3. Unmanned Aircraft System, Data Specialist (UASD).
    4. Unmanned Aircraft System, Manager (UASM).
    5. Vendor crew as required
  6. Coordinate mobilization of personnel. Schedule planning calls as needed.
  7. Obtain the Incident Action Plan (IAP).
  8. Obtain/confirm airspace authorization (SGI, TFR, etc.).
  9. Acquire Geographic Information System (GIS) data/maps for the area.
  10. Identify possible LRZ locations for vendor aircraft.
  11. Determine mission complexity.
    1. Location.
    2. Land status (ownership).
    3. Size of area.
    4. Topography.
    5. Vegetation type.
    6. Expected weather.
    7. Data collection timeframe (window).
  12. Start a paper trail or build an assignment folder with:
    1. Crew Qualification Cards.
    2. Aircraft Data Cards.
    3. Airspace Authorizations.
    4. Maps.
      1. Project location.
      2. TFR/NOTAM.
      3. Incident perimeter.
      4. Flight hazards.
      5. Financial codes.
      6. Cooperator agreements/letters (aircraft, pilots, etc.).
      7. Land use permits/authorizations.
    5. Vendor documents.
      1. Contract.
      2. Invoice forms (AMD 23, etc.).
  13. Gather Equipment.
    1. Determine aircraft to be used.
    2. Determine sensor payloads to be used.
    3. Cameras/mounts.
    4. Data storage.
  14. Determine computer hardware and software requirements.
    1. Laptop and GIS: Make sure the computer has appropriate permissions to add/update software.
    2. GCS: Ensure base maps are built for the mission area.
    3. Data processing (GIS, mapping, Digital Elevation Model (DEM), orthomosaic, etc.).
  15. Verify authorizations.
    1. Agency.
    2. Incident.
    3. Airspace.
  16. Ensure crew is within work/rest policy for flight and duty limitations.

Incident Arrival

  1. Follow established incident check in procedures.
  2. Verify chain of command.
  3. Confirm hours of operation, mission location(s), data objective(s), final product, and data delivery.
  4. Discuss meeting/briefing attendance with assigned supervisor.
  5. Perform site survey and consider:
    1. Access and egress.
    2. Proximity to fire activity.
    3. Communications (AM and FM).
    4. Takeoff and landing area.
    5. GCS link to aircraft (terrain/vegetation).
    6. GCS video/data link to remote display at Incident Command Post (ICP) or designated location.
    7. Cell/Wi-Fi coverage.
  6. Establish an LRZ when applicable (vendor aircraft/Type 1 or 2 UAS).
    1. Coordinate with incident personnel to identify potential LRZs.
    2. Plot potential LRZ locations.
    3. Perform a viewshed analysis to confirm GCS link can be maintained.
    4. Ensure LRZ location is documented, communicated to incident Geographic Information System Specialist (GISS), and depicted on appropriate incident maps.
  7. Build GCS maps and download applicable base map data.
  8. Perform UAS/sensor preflight inspection.
  9. Verify weight, balance, and attachment of payloads.
  10. Ensure proper fuel load/batteries fully charged.
  11. Obtain a weather briefing.





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