State to unveil new aerial thermal imaging system

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AUGUSTA — Technology currently in use in the Iraq war makes its way into Maine on Wednesday when the state unveils its new aerial thermal imaging system.

The $284,000 FLIR system, which uses infrared technology to produce video images in darkness and daylight, will be used for search-and-rescue and law enforcement missions by the Maine Warden Service, spokeswoman Deborah Turcotte said by e-mail on Tuesday afternoon.

The system, which is being used by larger cities and metropolitan areas throughout the country, will also be used for biological field studies.

“The FLIR system will have many applications, but for the Maine Warden Service, the priority is to return people to their families,” Turcotte said. “The MWS received more than 400 search-and-rescue calls a year.”

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The system will be unveiled during a news conference at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Maine Instrument Flight Inc. at the Augusta Municipal Airport.

According to its website, FLIR, which was founded in 1978 to provide infrared imaging systems installed in vehicles to detect energy leaks, primarily focuses on government customers.

Such customers use their hand-held and fixed-mounted products for search-and-rescue, force protection, counter-terrorism, perimeter security, navigation safety, law enforcement, narcotics detection, maritime and border patrol, and anti-piracy.

Turcotte said the FLIR purchase is part of a Maine Warden Service effort called “Project Night Hawk,” which began in the spring of 2007.

In the past few years, the warden service worked with the Maine Emergency Management Agency and the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund to get funding for the project.

Turcotte said the FLIR system didn’t cost the warden service anything. It was bought using funds from county emergency management agencies.

“The county emergency management agencies recognized the need for this type of camera, and worked with Maine Warden Service pilots to make sure the system that works well in Maine’s outdoors was purchased,” she said.

Additionally, the U.S. Defense Logistics Agency transferred a surplus aircraft to the warden service, which received grants to get a newly-overhauled engine.

Numerous repairs and improvements brought the aircraft and engine in line with other warden service aircraft.

To keep costs down, Turcotte said most of the repairs were done by three warden service pilots, two of whom are certified aircraft mechanics.

The aircraft and FLIR will be on display at the airport on Wednesday. Additionally, Turcotte said that representatives from FLIR will be in Augusta this week to train the warden service’s three pilots, along with seven game wardens on how to use the system.

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

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