Drone aircraft fighting the Red River flood

  • Article by: BOB VON STERNBERG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 25, 2009 - 2:05 PM

The flood fighters in the Red River have added a high-tech weapon to their arsenal this year.

A Predator unmanned drone aircraft, on loan from the Department of Homeland Security, is being used to survey the valley for the first time and give officials a quicker assessment than ever before of the flood's effects on the ground.

"We think it will help the emergency management folks pinpoint the areas they have to pay the most attention to," said Juan Munoz-Torres, a spokesman for the department.

An initial aerial survey of the valley was flown last weekend from south of Fargo to the Canadian border -- before the flood caused any substantial damage.

A second flight will be launched as soon as this weekend.

High-definition videos shot from both Predator flights will be then compared, immediately showing the physical differences wreaked by the flood.

Predators were used last summer along the Gulf Coast to assess damages sustained during the hurricane season, Munoz-Torres said.

A fully-armed version of the Predator is best known to the general public for its use in Afghanistan, where it has been increasingly used for bombing attacks.

The Predator flying the valley is one of several based at the air force base in Grand Forks, is one of five outposts along the northern border where the aircraft are being deployed by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, an arm of the homeland security department.

The drones' usual job is patrolling the Canadian border, electronically on the lookout for illegal immigrants, drug smugglers or suspected terrorists. The aircraft have been doing that job along the Mexican border since 2005.

Landing the Predators was a coup for the Grand Forks base, which is losing its fleet of KC-135 tankers in the next few years. Air Force officials say they hope as many as 20 drones eventually will be based there.

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