WILSONVILLE, Ore. - It's about the size of a trash can. But for searchers looking for that missing Malaysian jetliner, it's now indispensible.
“Critical, especially in times like this,” says FLIR Airborne Systems Product Manager Robert Kubis. “For searching large areas looking for small objects that may be out there.”
Wilsonville-based FLIR systems says it's airborne infrared camera pod hangs from the nose of many international search aircraft searching more than 2 million square miles for any trace of the missing airliner.
“You know, you can't probably identify a coast guard or some sort of a SAR operation in any country around the world that doesn't use our system,” said Kubis.
The heat-sensing camera can take a room full of people and pick them out of the cooler background. The U.S. Coast Guard uses the technology to catch drug smugglers dumping their contraband in total darkness.
It’s especially useful in searching the open ocean for an oil or fuel slick. FLIR sees a leaking ocean oil drilling platform and the oil slick from the leak is as plain as day. A slick that may be hard to see in daylight is easy to spot with FLIR.
“So you'll see a number of aircraft operating at lower altitudes, the smaller aircraft again with different operating procedures where you're looking for a smaller debris type objects. Whereas the bigger aircraft typically will be up higher trying to cover a bigger area. Again, weather will be the key factor in where they go and how high they fly,” says Kubis.
Whether or not it can help solve the mystery of Malaysia flight MH-370, FLIR maintains its cameras already capture a bigger picture.
“Saving lives and also helping protect their homelands,” Kubis said.