Saturday's training burn of Longview's Maple Terrace Apartments drew dozens of firefighters, more than 100 spectators - and three mini helicopters.
Remote controlled quadcopters equipped with high-definition cameras and video transmitters to be precise.
The quadcopters — square machines about the size of a laptop computer with a helicopter rotor and landing gear on each corner — are part hobby and part business for Portlanders Patrick Sherman and Brian Zvaigzne. Ideally, they hope to someday see the machines used by firefighters and law enforcement.
Saturday, for example, the quadcopters were able to fly into the smoke above the burning building and provide real-time video images of the fire. A public relations officer for law enforcement, Sherman said he also sees a number of uses for police.
"As soon as I heard about these I could see the benefit to front-line guys," he said. "It lets you see the fire or situation like you're in it — because the (quadcopter) is in it. It could let you peek over top (of) a structure fire or help track a wildfire. And in hazmat situations you sometimes can't get within a quarter mile of the site, but the copter can."
Sherman and Zvaigzne — who call themselves Roswell Flight Test Crew — came to Longview after another company hired them to shoot some video. Firefighting equipment company International Fog Inc., was demonstrating a piercing fire hose nozzle that can be used to break through walls and spray a "fog" of water to knock down flames before firefighters enter a room.
Sherman said when they heard of the burn they decided to bring their quadcopters along, too. They've already tested them with crews from a Portland fire district but are always looking for more experience and exposure. They've been flying the machines for about seven months and are still revising the design, he said.
"We're still in the prototype stage," Sherman said. "And it's a hobby, but we're also investigating the possibility of using it to benefit mankind."
Video of Saturday's fire will be posted on the men's website: http://www.roswellflighttestcrew.com.