WATER VALLEY – For almost two decades the Water Valley airport has been used as a testing location to develop technology for a hostile-fire detection system that helps protect U.S. forces fighting overseas in Iraq, Afghanistan and in other combat areas.
FireFLY (hostile Fire Fast Locating sensor) is a hostile-fire detection system developed jointly by the U.S. Army and industry partners including Tupelo-Based Hyperion Technology Group and Huntsville, Ala. based Invariant Corporation. The FireFly system was initially deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 and a civilian version is also used by law enforcement in the United States, currently operating in six cities. The system can also detect the location where mortar or artillery rounds and grenades are fired from.
The National Center for Physical Acoustics (NCPA) at the University of Mississippi has also been a long-term project partner with the project. Dr. Wayne Prather, a Senior Scientist II with NCPA, explained that the local airport is an ideal location for the testing.
“Technology that is being developed here is something that will help the war fighter in the very near future,” Prather reported as he provided an overview of the system concept which uses optical and acoustic sensors. “It is all about having a system that can tell where a shooter is shooting from. That could be a sniper. As soon as they shoot, in less than a second the system is reporting their location.”
The FireFLY system is often used at a forward operating base or in the field, but Prather said the military is also interested in being able to outfit moving vehicles with these types of systems.
“Humvees currently have systems like this, but when you crank the Humvee up, it is very noisy and the system does not perform very well,” Prather continued. “We are trying to make these things work well in noisy environments.”
The testing last week focused on making the detection system work on a multi-rotor drone as part of a contract with the U.S. Army. Prather explained that the buzz of the rotors and wind noise from the drone flying through the air make it more difficult for the sensors to pinpoint the location of the shot.
“We are trying to figure out what is the best way to make it work in these very noisy environments. In the end, it will be a system bolted on an Army drone,” Prather noted, adding that NCPA helps perfect the technology and then Hyperion develops a product which it builds and sells.
Prather also said last week’s testing was the first time live fire testing had been done at one of the airport tests and the work focused on the two main supersonic military rounds – the SKS(7.62 mm) and AR-15 (5.56 mm). The detection system can detect both the muzzle blast and the shock wave off the bullet.
On Tuesday, the drones buzzed up and down the runway at different elevations as the rounds were fired slightly outside of the airport property parallel to the runway. Engineers were set up in tents along the runway to monitor the work.
Hyperion Technology Group founding member Gerald Godbold reported the testing at the Water Valley airport dates back to 2004.
“This is a U.S. Government funded activity that we are very proud to have here,” Godbold reported. “This is a very unique opportunity and this airport is absolutely perfect for what we are doing. As long as we are not interfering with the normal commerce of this airport, we love being able to use it.”
Godbold also noted that in recent years much of the basic acoustics research for FireFLY, especially testing with moving vehicles, was done at the airport.
“We have a system that is going to the Secret Service that was developed by our company, Hyperion. A lot of the foundational data for that system came out of testing here at Water Valley,” Godbold added.
“Every time they come out here, they are doing something different,” airport manager Mike Scroggins explained. “They have been doing this for a long time.”