Flying in Smoke
Greetings -
I am seeking advice on flying cross country in smoky conditions.  With all the fires around, I may never fly again if I wait for another KAVU day.  Any tips or references to other resources would be appreciated... (VFR pilot).  

Wade See
5 Replies
1629 Posts

There are a lot of reasons to avoid flying through smoke plumes, which affect the health of both you (bad chemicals into your lungs) and your airplane (engine air filter may clog from particulates), even if you can see through it.  That's not to say you can't safely fly through a light haze of smoke such that you can see through all the way to the far horizon, but stay out of the thicker smoke plumes.

Agree with previous comments. Remember you still must follow VFR day visibility requirements, 3 miles. FYI, it's CAVU not KAVU, ceilings and visibility unlimited.
Hi Wade,

One thing that hasn't been mentioned yet is the wildfire/firefighting TFRs. You'll want to make sure that you're calling a briefer before you go flying, even if it's a local flight to ensure that there aren't any firefighting TFRs in the area. Here's an older, but still good AOPA article on the topic; click here.

Another thing you'll want to avoid is night flying if possible. Shifts in the wind, even at altitude, can cause you to get stuck in IFR conditions that you can't see till you're in it and may have not been forecast. During the day you may be able to see the shift coming, but you might not be able to do anything about it.

It may even be worth your time to get some recurrent basic attitude instrument flying with a CFI, it can't hurt, and it may save you down the road. You might even want to go over the process of shooting an instrument approach into your airport too. Better to have the knowledge and and not need it. 

Thanks to all for your good information.  Ended up taking my 4-wheel plane to keep safe.    
The other thing to remember is that when flying in smoke, the density can change gradually. I had an experience a few years back when I was flying home in smoke. My home airport was listed as VFR, but when I was about 50 miles away suddenly changed to low IFR. I am a VFR pilot. Looking around I realized I was clearly in IFR conditions although the change was so gradual I had not noticed. The smoke extended well beyond my 10,500 altitude. I was able to divert to another airport and park the plane there for a few days until the smoke cleared. I would be very cautious about flying in smoke.