Like many government agencies, the Bureau of Land Management relies on aircraft to help achieve its many objectives. In fact, aerospace government contracting is one of the largest sectors of the aerospace supply chain. Greenwood Aerospace recognizes the importance of Bureau of Land Management aircraft in carrying out its mission to protect the great public lands of the United States. 

America's natural treasures are vast and diverse–from awe-inspiring forests and rugged mountain ranges to fragile ecosystems and unique wildlife habitats. Protecting and preserving these natural wonders is a priority for the nation. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is one of the key government agencies in this mission. Responsible for managing over 245 million acres of public land, the BLM is committed to maintaining the health and diversity of these lands for future generations.

In this article, we will delve into the crucial role of the Bureau of Land Management's aircraft in protecting our nation's natural treasures. These versatile and advanced aircraft support the BLM in various areas, such as wildfire management, wildlife monitoring, environmental research, and law enforcement.

We’ll also discuss the different types of aircraft in the BLM's fleet, and highlight how technological advancements have further enhanced their ability to safeguard America's public lands. So, let's take to the skies to discover more about the BLM's aerial assets and their contributions to preserving and managing our country's most precious natural resources.

 What is the Bureau of Land Management? 

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is a federal agency within the United States Department of the Interior responsible for managing public lands and resources across the country. Established in 1946, the BLM's primary mission is to ensure the sustainable and responsible use of public lands while preserving their natural, historical, and cultural values for future generations.

A blue and white Bureau of Land Management aircraft sits parked outside the Redmond Air Center U.S. Forest Service.

Key responsibilities of the BLM include:

  • managing over 245 million acres of public land, which constitutes about one-tenth of the land in the United States
  • overseeing approximately 700 million acres of subsurface mineral estate
  • implementing land-use plans to balance conservation, recreation, and sustainable development
  • protecting habitats for thousands of plant and animal species, including many threatened and endangered species
  • providing opportunities for outdoor recreation and education on public lands
  • issuing permits and leases for activities such as grazing, mining, and oil and gas development
  • partnering with state and local governments, tribal nations, and other stakeholders to collaboratively manage resources and achieve shared goals

About the Department of Interior 

The United States Department of the Interior (DOI) is a Cabinet-level agency responsible for managing and conserving most federal lands and natural resources. Founded in 1849, the DOI's mission is to:

  • protect and manage the nation's natural resources and cultural heritage;
  • provide scientific and other information about those resources; and
  • honor its trust responsibilities or special commitments to American Indian, Alaska Native, and affiliated island communities.

Key bureaus and offices within the Department of the Interior include:

  • Bureau of Land Management (BLM)
  • National Park Service (NPS)
  • United States Geological Survey (USGS)
  • Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)
  • Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA)
  • Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)
  • Bureau of Reclamation (BOR)
  • Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE)

Together, these bureaus and offices manage and conserve America's natural and cultural resources while ensuring that public lands are accessible and sustainably utilized for the benefit of present and future generations.

How BLM Preserves Our Nation’s Land

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plays a pivotal role in preserving America's public lands for the enjoyment of present and future generations. By working closely with other federal, state, and local government agencies, tribal nations, and various stakeholders, the BLM ensures the responsible use and management of these precious resources. Public lands under the BLM's jurisdiction encompass a wide range of landscapes and ecosystems, including forests, deserts, grasslands, and wetlands, as well as historical and cultural sites.

BLM services include:

  1. Land use planning and management: Balancing conservation, recreation, and sustainable development while minimizing conflicts among various land uses
  2. Wildlife habitat conservation and management: Protecting and enhancing habitats for thousands of plant and animal species, including many threatened and endangered species
  3. Cultural and historical resource protection: Preserving and interpreting sites of historical, cultural, and archaeological significance
  4. Outdoor recreation management and access: Providing diverse recreational opportunities for the public while minimizing environmental impacts
  5. Natural resource development permitting and oversight: Ensuring that activities such as grazing, mining, and oil and gas development are conducted responsibly and sustainably
  6. Environmental education and volunteer programs: Engaging the public in the stewardship of public lands and fostering environmental awareness
An aircraft battles wildfires by dropping its bright red retardant over dark gray smoke billowing from the landscape below.

BLM's aircraft are vital in many of these efforts, providing aerial support and enhancing the agency's ability to manage and protect public lands effectively. Let’s take a closer look at 3 of the core services that leverage BLM aircraft:

  • environmental monitoring
  • search and rescue operations
  • wildfire containment and management 
  • The Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) Program

Environmental Monitoring 

Environmental monitoring is an integral part of the Bureau of Land Management operations. This initiative helps the agency assess the health of ecosystems, identify potential threats, and develop appropriate management strategies to maintain or improve the condition of these resources. 

Why is it important? 

Regular monitoring can serve as an early warning system to detect emerging environmental problems, such as illegal mining or logging, wildlife endangerment, and invasive species. Early detection allows the agency to proactively address issues before they become more severe or costly to remediate. 

The BLM employs aircraft to conduct regular environmental monitoring, including wildlife surveys, vegetation assessments, and aerial photography. These aerial surveys provide valuable data on ecosystem health, species populations, and land use changes. They also help the BLM detect and respond to environmental threats like invasive species, habitat degradation, and illegal activities.

Aircraft equipped with advanced sensors, cameras, and mapping technology allows BLM specialists to cover vast areas quickly and efficiently. This aerial data collection saves time and resources, and minimizes the impact on sensitive ecosystems and wildlife.

Search and Rescue Operations

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plays a vital role in search and rescue (SAR) operations on the vast expanses of public lands under its jurisdiction. In collaboration with local, state, and federal agencies and volunteer organizations, the BLM helps ensure the safety of millions of visitors who explore these lands each year. 

BLM rangers and other personnel are often involved in SAR missions, providing essential local knowledge, expertise, and resources to locate and assist lost or injured individuals. These operations may involve a wide range of activities, from coordinating ground searches with K-9 units to utilizing aerial support and advanced technology, such as drones and satellite imagery, to cover large areas quickly and efficiently. 

By maintaining strong partnerships and continuously enhancing its SAR capabilities, the BLM remains committed to promoting public safety and ensuring that outdoor enthusiasts can confidently enjoy the beauty and recreational opportunities offered by America's public lands.

BLM aircraft play a crucial role in search and rescue operations on public lands, providing rapid response capabilities in remote and challenging terrain. For example, fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters equipped with advanced navigation, communication, and thermal imaging technology enable BLM teams to conduct searches in various weather conditions and during day and night operations. These aircraft also serve as vital platforms for deploying rescue personnel and equipment, and transporting injured or stranded individuals to safety.

Wildfire Containment and Management

As wildfires have become more frequent and intense due to climate change and human activities, the BLM's fire prevention, preparedness, and suppression efforts have become increasingly vital. 

BLM's wildfire management operations encompass a range of activities, including implementing fuel reduction projects, such as prescribed burns and vegetation thinning, to decrease the risk and severity of wildfires. During active wildfire incidents, the BLM works closely with other federal, state, and local agencies to coordinate firefighting efforts. They can deploy specialized crews, equipment, and aircraft to contain and suppress fires quickly and safely. Aircraft are indispensable in this effort, providing ground-based firefighting crews with aerial reconnaissance, fire mapping, and real-time intelligence.

BLM's fleet includes fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, each with specific capabilities tailored to wildfire response. These aircraft are used for various tasks, such as aerial firefighting with water and fire retardant drops, transporting firefighting crews and equipment, and providing aerial supervision and coordination for complex wildfire incidents. By utilizing aircraft in these capacities, the BLM can effectively protect public lands, natural resources, and nearby communities from the devastating impacts of wildfires.

The BLM also focuses on post-fire rehabilitation, working to restore damaged ecosystems, prevent erosion, and mitigate the potential for future fires. Through these comprehensive wildfire containment and management operations, the BLM aims to protect public lands, natural resources, and surrounding communities from the devastating impacts of wildfires.

Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) Program

One of the primary support systems of national wildfire defense is the Modular Airborne Fire FIghting System, or MAFFS, Program. MAFFS repurposes military aircraft, such as the C-130 Hercules, into critical wildfire suppression airtankers, providing “surge” capabilities for lead planes and air tactical missions to douse and prevent further fire damage. 

Per Kim Christensen, Deputy Assistant Director of Operations for the USDA Forest Service

The Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System (MAFFS) Program is a tremendous example of how the USDA Forest Service and other wildland fire agencies work cooperatively with the military. We conduct an annual training and certification exercise to ensure that MAFFS can be integrated into fire suppression operations in a safe, effective and seamless manner. It helps ensure our mutual preparedness.”

With wildfire concerns increasing in recent years due to extreme weather changes, the USDA Forest Service has requisitioned and deployed eight MAFFS-equipped C-130s, a first in the fight against wildfire spread across the United States. These aircraft need little to no modifications to prepare for their air tactical missions, providing integral assistance through a 3,000 gallon payload of “slurry”—or, water and retardant mixture—across a 60-feet wide and one-quarter mile long area, all within five seconds.

An aircraft drops bright red retardant over wildfire as a lead plane flies in front and above.

The Diverse Fleet of BLM Aircraft 

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) utilizes a diverse fleet of aircraft to protect and manage our nation's natural treasures. These aircraft play a crucial role in supporting the BLM's mission of sustaining public lands' health, diversity, and productivity. 

There are three primary types of aircraft used by the BLM:

  1. Fixed-wing aircraft
  2. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) 
  3. Helicopters 

Let’s examine how each contributes to special missions for the BLM. 

Fixed-Wing Aircraft

Fixed-wing aircraft support a wide range of BLM activities, such as wildfire suppression, wildlife monitoring, and remote sensing. These aircraft offer advantages in terms of speed, endurance, and payload capacity compared to other aircraft types.

Benefits of fixed-wing aircraft in agency missions include: 

  • High-speed travel
  • Longer range and endurance
  • Greater payload capacity
  • Lower operational costs compared to helicopters

Aerial surveillance and mapping are essential tools in the BLM's arsenal, allowing for accurate and up-to-date information on land features, resources, and conditions. By utilizing aircraft, the BLM can efficiently survey large areas and capture high-resolution imagery, which can then be used to inform land management decisions, monitor environmental changes, and support emergency response efforts. This is particularly helpful in wildfire management and wildlife conservation initiatives. 

Fixed-wing aircraft are invaluable for transporting personnel and equipment to remote areas or during emergencies. They provide a quick and efficient means of accessing hard-to-reach locations, facilitating the BLM's ability to manage public lands and resources.

Two examples of fixed-wing aircraft commonly used by the BLM are:

  1. Beechcraft King Air: King Airs are valuable in BLM work, specifically in lead plane and air tactical—aka, “air attack”—missions. During wildfire management, BLM’s King Airs perform the crucial role of guiding aircraft operating closer to the fires, as well as helping coordinate ground crews and resources. From a higher vantage point, King Airs are able to define and assist with drop points, tower and wire searches, and turbulence checks.
  2. Cessna 206 Stationair: The Cessna 206 is a high-wing, single-engine aircraft well-suited for wildlife surveys and remote area operations. Its excellent visibility, slow flight capability, and ability to operate from short or unimproved airstrips make it a valuable asset for the BLM's diverse needs.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)

UAVs, or drones, are increasingly used by the BLM for various applications, such as surveying, mapping, and monitoring. These aircraft offer unique advantages, including the ability to access hard-to-reach areas and reduce risks to personnel.

Advantages of UAVs include:

  • Access to remote and difficult-to-reach areas
  • Reduced risk to personnel
  • Lower operational costs compared to manned aircraft
  • High-resolution imaging capabilities

Aerial surveys and mapping are essential to the BLM's land management efforts, providing accurate and up-to-date geospatial data on land features, resources, and conditions. UAVs have revolutionized this process, offering high-resolution imagery and the ability to cover large areas quickly, which can then be used to inform land management decisions, monitor environmental changes, and support emergency response efforts. In addition, these functions help with vegetation and habitat monitoring, along with wildlife tracking and counting, as they provide a non-invasive method of observing and tracking. 

Monitoring infrastructure and resources is another key function of UAVs in the BLM's operations. For example, drones can be used to inspect roads, bridges, fences, and other facilities, ensuring their safety and integrity while minimizing risks to personnel. Additionally, UAVs can assist in detecting and preventing unauthorized activities, such as illegal mining or logging, by monitoring sensitive areas and gathering evidence of potential violations.

Two examples of UAVs commonly used by the BLM are:

  1. DJI Phantom 4 RTK: This popular quadcopter drone is known for its precise mapping capabilities. Equipped with a high-resolution camera and real-time kinematic (RTK) GPS technology, the DJI Phantom 4 RTK can capture accurate geospatial data, making it an excellent choice for aerial surveys and mapping tasks.
  2. SenseFly eBee X: The SenseFly eBee X is a fixed-wing drone designed for large-scale mapping and surveying applications. With its extended flight time and ability to cover considerable distances, the eBee X is ideal for collecting high-quality aerial data over vast areas, making it an invaluable tool for vegetation and habitat monitoring, wildlife tracking, and infrastructure inspections.


Helicopters provide the BLM with unparalleled versatility and maneuverability. They allow crews to perform various tasks, such as firefighting, search and rescue, and personnel transport.

Advantages of helicopters for BLM missions include:

  • Vertical takeoff and landing capabilities
  • Ability to hover and perform low-speed maneuvers
  • Access to remote and confined areas
  • Rapid deployment and response times

To effectively manage the vast areas of public lands, the BLM relies on helicopters for a range of critical tasks, including wildfire suppression and management, search and rescue operations, aerial surveys and monitoring, and transportation. In addition, helicopters offer enhanced maneuverability and the ability to access remote and difficult-to-reach areas, making them invaluable tools in these missions. 

These aircraft offer a quick and efficient means of accessing remote locations or responding to emergencies, ensuring that BLM staff and resources can be deployed where they are needed most.

Two examples of helicopters commonly used by the BLM are:

  1. Bell 206 JetRanger: This reliable, single-engine helicopter is versatile and well-suited for various BLM missions, including aerial surveys and wildfire support. With its excellent visibility, maneuverability, and relatively low operating costs, the Bell 206 JetRanger is a popular choice for many BLM tasks.
  2. Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk: The larger, twin-engine Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk is a powerful and capable helicopter utilized for more demanding missions such as firefighting, search and rescue, and heavy-lift operations. Its significant payload capacity, range, and endurance make it an invaluable asset for the BLM in protecting and managing public lands.
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Greenwood Aerospace: Supplier of Government Agencies 

Effective land management and conservation require reliable, versatile, and cutting-edge aviation solutions. At Greenwood Aerospace, we recognize the incredible power of a strong aerospace program for government agency functions. 

As a trusted supplier of quality aircraft parts and other aviation services for government agencies, we’ve worked with the U.S. Forest Service, the Department of Energy, NASA, and NOAA. We offer a comprehensive range of solutions, including short-term aircraft leasing, aircraft parts procurement, and ground support to meet these agencies' unique needs and challenges. 

With our extensive experience and dedication to providing exceptional service, Greenwood Aerospace ensures that government agencies can efficiently and effectively fulfill their missions. If you represent a government agency in need of aerial assets and support, don’t hesitate to contact Greenwood Aerospace for a quote.