About the Aerial Camera That Spotted the Second Boston Bombing Suspect


When Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the younger of the two Boston bombing suspects, was discovered hiding in a man’s boat just outside the perimeter police had set up to search for him, the cops took no chances. Rather than sending officers right in and risking injury, they enlisted the help of an impressive aerial camera to confirm his location and then keep watch as police tried to coax him out.

The camera, developed by the FLIR corporation, is called the Star SAFIRE III, and it’s the one behind all of the infrared shots of Tsarnaev in the boat that spread like wildfire all over the Internet this weekend.

Here’s one of those pictures:


To be accurate, camera isn’t even the right word, FLIR prefers the term “multi-imaging system.” According to Gizmodo, the SAFIRE III is a 15-inch gimbal system that packs a 640 x 480 infrared camera operating between 3-5μm, an optional color zoom camera, a spotter scope, a low-light camera, a 25km laser rangefinder, a pointer, and an illuminator. Like we said, they prefer “multi-imaging system.”

Speaking with Gizmodo, FLIR President Andy Teich explains why the camera was ideally suited for the job it got:

One of the unique capabilities of the camera is … [its] imaging in the midwave region … There are many plastics that become transparent in those wavelengths. And in this case, the boat had one of these shrinkwrap coverings — opaque plastic shrinkwrap covering — and the SAFIRE saw right through that.

After the images had already made the rounds online, the Boston Police Department released this video of the camera at work through the entire arrest:

If you’re thinking you’d like a SAFIRE III yourself, you’re in luck. It’s actually available for purchase by the public, and weighing in at only 100lbs, you can attach it to something as small as a Cessna. You’ll just have to be prepared to spend somewhere in the vicinity of $500K to actually get your hands on it.

(via Gizmodo)

  • slvrscoobie

    I guess 8-14um wavelength is Midwave now? Humans and tanks dont lite up at night unless you are imaging the thermal signature. Also 3-5um wavelength cameras are Typically under ITAR regulations, and not available, Long wavelength thermals usually are.

  • umpfggf

    eye in the sky… big brother… blue thunder… brave new world….

  • Mantis

    One nation, under surveillance.

  • Ken Elliott

    I find it interesting that the police were unable to find suspect #2, and ended the lockdown. After that, it was a citizen that noticed his boat cover was ajar, looked inside, then called the police.

    This is not to say a lockdown was the wrong thing to do, but let’s not overestimate the value of these expensive high tech tools.

  • mk526

    yeah, you guys are right.. we shouldn’t use technology that is at our disposal to aid in a federal investigation to safely arrest a terrorist that killed our citizens. Ya know.. 1984 and all..

  • Jim Horn

    There are lots of such systems – Wescam’s MX series and even their M11 have been able to do this for many years. For the latter, stability to point to the middle of a golf ball from a mile away during turbulence and being able to see it if it’s one thousandth of a degree Celcius above ambient were achieved in 2000. And small enough for UAVs far smaller than the Predator / Reaper / etc. Phenomenal for search and rescue during day or night – I could count individual elk from ~30 miles away on its first test flight. A lower performance one was standard as the Wescam Model 12, which is very popular with police helicopters along with a NightSun xenon-arc searchlight.

  • James Kelley

    I still don’t understand why the cops felt the need to drop three flashbangs on the guy once they’d found him in the boat, even more so now that we know he wasn’t even armed in there. I’m also doubting that he ran over his own brother during his getaway attempt; it’s seeming much more likely that a little vigilante justice took place once they had him in custody.

    Furthermore, do we know whose bullets hit the transit cop? If these two were really only armed with one 9mm pistol between the two of them, how could they possibly have fired more than 250 rounds?

    This entire episode does way more to harm the myth of a security state that it does to enhance it. I mean seriously, why wasn’t a dog brought in to track the suspect from the abandoned car, which they obviously found, to the boat? Is it because the cops wanted to use this opportunity to showcase all the new and expensive “homeland security” technology they’ve acquired in recent years?

  • Fred hgggg

    using it on a guy like dorner would seem over the top.

    on a muslim boy with a funny name, its jussst right

  • horchata

    what should they have done instead? tell us exactly what they should have done. idiot.

  • Ray McClure

    Is warrantless searches the new norm? One 19 year old with a gun makes a city of one million cower in their homes? At the mercy of armed government (union) agents? The New Amerika. God bless The State.