Boeing Wants to Fight Forest Fires With a Howitzer

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In something of a departure from its usual lines of business, Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) has filed a patent application for an artillery shell that would deliver up to six gallons of fire retardant per round, day or night, 24 hours a day, in any weather, regardless of fire conditions. Some guns could deliver fire retardant within 15 feet of a target at a range of 15 miles, according to the application.

Using a standard guide that estimates the speed at which a wildfire can spread, the patent application noted that on a large 883-acre fire it would take more than 34 hours to deliver 360,000 gallons of retardant by airplane or helicopter. Artillery shells with a three-gallon payload could deliver that much in about half the time, minimizing the area burned to a total of about 1,103 acres compared with a burned area of 3,130 acres when only a helicopter is used to dump retardant on the fire.

The Boeing staff responsible for the application also took notice of the environmental impact of leaving a lot of shrapnel behind:

In one embodiment, the external surface … of the artillery shell … may be made of any degrading metal which decomposes in nature in less than ten years or is inert and is not harmful to the environment without decomposition. In this embodiment, the external surface … is made of high carbon steel, structural glass, or ceramics having a tensile strength greater than about 200 MP such as Zirconia, Zirconia-toughened Alumina, or Alumina.

The shell would explode in mid-air, above the fire, and retardant coverage would vary between one and six gallons per 100 square feet. There is even a proposed variation that does not use any explosive material or fuse.

Seven Boeing employees are listed as the inventors and the patent has been assigned to the company.