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Drone aircraft provides aerial images of massive blaze

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GROVELAND, Calif. — The nation’s latest cutting-edge firefighting tool is now flying through the smoky skies above the Rim fire near Yosemite National Park: an unmanned drone aircraft that provides real-time imagery affording fire commanders a birds-eye view of the 300-square-mile blaze.

Incident Cmdr. Mike Wilkins requested the MQ-1 aircraft belonging to the California Air National Guard. The remotely piloted plane began flying last Wednesday. Unlike fixed-wing planes and helicopters, drones are not grounded at night or unable to fly in high winds or smoke. They fly at about 18,000 feet and cost about $800 an hour to operate.

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