On January 31, 2014, an Arkansas Forestry Commission plane was reported missing in western Arkansas. The plane was on a routine forest fire patrol mission when the pilot failed to check in at one of his checkpoints. The search started out local, but quickly grew into the largest search and rescue mission in Arkansas history. The plane was eventually recovered on February 11, 2014. Regretfully, Jake Harrell, the pilot of the plane, did not survive the crash.
With the search area consisting of 950,000 acres, GIS was an essential tool in the rescue efforts. A critical component of the GIS data collected was tracking the aircraft flight paths. This allowed pilots and operation planners to efficiently plan flight paths to avoid duplication of effort. The data from the Arkansas National Guard UH-60’s (Blackhawk) and UH-72’s (Lakota) proved to be a challenge. A few of these helicopters were equipped with an Electronic Data Manager, or EDM (http://www.raytheon.com/capabilities/products/edm/). This EDM’s internal GPS collected the helicopters location in preset intervals. At first, the data was given to the GIS analyst on the ground in paper map format with small red dots representing the GPS breadcrumbs from EDM which annotated the helicopters locations. This formatting required GIS analysts to georeference the paper maps and digitize the individual flight paths. Essentially, it was a connect-the-dots process. This method was time consuming and not always accurate. In the haste and confusion of the search and rescue mission, a digitized format of the EDM’s GPS breadcrumbs was never acquired.
Once the mission was over we were able to collaborate with the Arkansas National Guard and learn that the EDM produces a .gps file. The .gps file contains the flight path data and can easily be converted into common GIS file formats (.kml) for easier use. The link to this document is a step-by-step guide for how to convert a .gps to .kml.
For any questions regarding this post, please contact Seth LeMaster at firstname.lastname@example.org or 501-682-2929.
A special thanks to Wes Cleland (Arkansas Game and Fish Commission) and Justin Mallett and Eric Myers (Arkansas Forestry Commission). Their time and effort was the driving force for GIS for the entire search and rescue mission.