Researchers at NASA Langley Research Center have turned a US Army target drone into a fire spotter.
NASA Aerospace Engineer Mike Logan said he is hoping the idea will take off.
"The theory is that we should actually be able to see smoke rising up, or we should be able to see the hot spot with the infrared," said Logan, who heads the unmanned air vehicle laboratory at NASA Langley.
Logan said manned aircraft, with a USD 1,500 to USD 2,500 bill per hour, are used for million-dollar firefights.
Although NASA's unmanned drone would cost USD 5,000-USD 10,000 up front, it would eventually be as little as USD 50 per flight, 'wavy.com' reported.
Another possible advantage to the drone is that it would be able to go up immediately after a storm, whereas aircraft may take a while to be able to get into the air.
However, the drone does have limitations.
"This particular unit is limited to 20 to 25 minutes at roughly 40 to 50 mph," Logan said.
The fire spotting drone has been tested at the military aviation museum in Pungo.
Researchers are now hoping to collect data high above the Great Dismal Swamp, a marshy area in the Coastal Plain Region of southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina, between Norfolk, Virginia, and Elizabeth City, North Carolina.