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The Boeing Company logo is seen on the property in El Segundo, Calif., Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011. Boeing Co. said Wednesday, Jan. 26, delays to its new 787 and higher pension expenses will hurt its 2011 profit. The airplane builder and defense company also says its fourth-quarter profit fell to $1.16 billion, down 8 percent from the same time last year. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

Shooting guns to put out fires might be the most American thing ever. And it might work


There are a lot of ways to stop a wildfire, but they're all complicated and expensive.

But apparently no one had tried shooting at the flames before.

Boeing, a U.S. aerospace company, was granted a patent for what amounts to a big bullet that fights fires.  Or, more specifically, an "artillery shell" the size of a dog, filled with fire retardant, according to its patent application.

How does it work?

Well, it doesn't exist yet. So keep that in mind.

But the patent design would explode, spreading chemicals in front of a fire (to stop it from spreading) or above it (to make the flames weaker). 

Wait, isn't that kind of what we already do?

Yes, but Boeing argues that dropping chemicals from aircraft is inefficient.

If you're shooting tens of thousands of them, the costs would be prohibitive.
Bill Gabbert

So what's the downside?

In the words of Bill Gabbert, editor-in-chief of Wildfire Today: Cost. And also, the whole design is flawed, since Boeing's argument about planes isn't valid. 

"Retardant applied from the air does not put out fires," he told The Guardian. It just lets firefighters get closer.

Is Boeing going to make this anyway? 

Probably not. It said in a statement: "The awarding of a patent does not necessarily mean that Boeing will be developing that concept or design in the near future."

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If the design did end up working, it would be well-timed in the western U.S., which has been ravaged by wildfires.

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