Chinese company EHang has announced another first: It has passed a technical evaluation of its EH216F AAV, a drone built specially for firefighting. Credit: EHang.

It can reach heights that ladders and hoses cannot.

When a fire starts on an upper floor of a high-rise building, firefighters generally have to reach the site by walking up many, many flights of stairs — since elevators are not a safe option during a fire.

Armed with six fire retardant-loaded missiles designed to be launched at fire hotspots as well as a fire extinguisher, the EHang 216F AAV (Autonomous Aerial Vehicle) drone is intended to plug the capability gap in urban high-rise firefighting, DroneDJ reported.

The Chinese company has already built a passenger-carrying drone that’s been extensively tested and will likely be flying people over congested urban centers in the not-so-distant future.

But this week, EHang, one of the leaders of the pack when it comes to autonomous drones, announced it has passed a technical evaluation for its firefighting drone.

And that’s pretty cool.

A number of companies have been testing out prototypes, but they’re generally smaller machines with limited payload capacity – not capable of handling much more than small fires.

And while a single EHang EH216F won’t extinguish a towering inferno, it clearly has greater capabilities than other drones.

Of course, if you want to build and deploy something like this, there are rules involved and standards that must be met.

In China, that includes an intensive examination by the China National Fire-Fighting Equipment Quality Supervision Testing Center, or NFFE.

The NFFE’s technical examination is widely used in the firefighting equipment markets and the MEM (Ministry of Emergency Management) system and considered the cornerstone of quality for firefighting products in China. 

The body is the country’s national firefighting equipment quality examination agency, and its roles include “standards development, centralized management, and technical guidance for firefighting equipment products, including firefighting unmanned aerial vehicles,” says EHang’s news release.

“The NFFE conducted a comprehensive 10-month technical examination on EH216F and 52 different types of tests were completed in areas such as flight control functions, hovering and return accuracy, high/low altitude flights, electromagnetic compatibility, wind resistance, high/low temperature adaptability, vibration/shock resistance, radiant heat resistance and smoke performance,” the release said.

It’s clear a machine like this could be put to good use to help supplement ground-based firefighters. It’s also a pretty cool design, based on the proven EH216 platform.

With a maximum flight altitude of 600 meters, the 216F can carry up to 150 litres of firefighting foams and six fire extinguisher bombs in a single trip.

It uses a visible light zoom camera to quickly identify the location of fire; it then hovers precisely in position and uses a laser aiming device to fire (in succession) a window breaker, the fire extinguishing “bombs” and then a full-range spray of firefighting foam.

Multiple 216Fs can be deployed to rapidly extinguish a raging blaze, officials say — as many as are needed.

Sources: DroneDJ, Aerotime Hub, Intelligent-Aerospace, Asian Aviation