Smoke is no joke

Discussion in 'Flight Following' started by Lndwarrior, Aug 5, 2018.

  1. Lndwarrior

    Lndwarrior Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Almost got suckered into a VFR zero vis situation at altitude today.

    I was trying to make it back to Sonoma County from Pine Mountain Lake as I climbed up above the smoke layer at 6500. I had reasonable visibility of the ground - for about 15 minutes.

    As i got just south of Columbia Airport I could see for about 50 miles in either direction of the Sacramento Valley. It was a solid layer of smoke, with a clearly defined top around 6000 feet. No way i was flying over a solid layer of smoke with no guarantee of being able to get down at my destination.

    About the time I made this decision i looked down to see my vertical visibility was dropping. Unbeknownst to me another fire had started near Calaveras and was now adding to the smoke from the Ferguson fire and the other large fire off Hwy 108.

    About 25 years ago I almost lost control of an aircraft in smoke and have an inherent fear of it. This added to my anxiety as I immediarely turned towards my "out", Columbia Airport.

    Surprising, even as i descended at about 1000 fpm the vis was still dropping. This really amped up my anxiety. I'm a short 5 miles from the airport but the vis has dropped to maybe 2 to 3.

    At this particular moment i was glad i had turned on the 3d view on my IFly GPS. Having some idea of the terrain helped me to get in sight of the airport.

    My landing was horrible but i was friggen happy to be safe. I hate to think what could have happened if i delayed my decision to aim for Columbia, even for two more minutes.

    I called my wife who was still at Pine Mountain Lake. "Honey, I'm at Columbia Airport, can you come pick me up?".

    As i waited at Columbia I watched Calfire aircraft, land and take off about every 5 minutes. I have no idea how those heros fly in those conditions and worse, in mountainous terrain, all day long.
     
  2. AndrewX

    AndrewX Pre-Flight

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    Glad you're safe. Excellent aviation decision making. Thanks for sharing your story.
     
  3. Pilawt

    Pilawt Final Approach

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    Smoke is worse than other kinds of restrictions to visibility. Clouds, at least, don't make you cough and gag, and don't make your eyes water and sting.

    It's ugly. To try to avoid smoke in the Northwest in fire season I've climbed up to 14,000 feet in legal VFR (5+ mile visibility) but no discernible horizon and no view of the ground except straight down.
     
  4. 1RTK1

    1RTK1 Line Up and Wait

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    It’s been pretty bad on and off here in the Central Valley. Early this morning it wasn’t bad, but that didn’t last long.
     
  5. Shawn

    Shawn En-Route

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    Yup...been there. During the last batch of SoCal fires I almost asked for a pop up IFR on one trek visibility was so bad.

    Learned that trip to factor in winds and smoke forecast into my flight planning from there on! Usually you can get above it then figure out where to go around it but flying IN that sucks!

    These pics are from my Mount Shasta Paramotor trip a few weeks ago with a fire raging north of Redding...that is smoke, not fog!

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2018
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  6. BillTIZ

    BillTIZ Final Approach

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    Smoke was heavy in the Las Vegas area today. Could not see the mountains around the valley from the ground, but visibility was reported at greater than 10. On top of the smoke at 7500ft, nice 70F OAT. Forward visibility of the ground was about 5 miles with the sun behind me. Nice flight from VGT to Shoshone CA (L61).

    Departing Shoshone, could not see the high ridge to the west, stayed southbound until above 6000 then turned east to Jean NV (0L7), could see the ridges at about 4 miles with the sun in your face. Above 7000 again and cloud see the definite smoke layer with mountain peaks sticking up like out of a low level marine layer.

    Jean to VGT was no issue staying low to ground below the Class B west of Las Vegas. Could always see the strip, good 15 mile visibility, but making the turn at Red Rock you could not really pick out the airport until about 4 miles out.

    Not a good day for student solo outside the traffic pattern. Instructors said the visibility to spot others in the practice area was not safe for operations.
     
  7. Catalo

    Catalo Pre-takeoff checklist

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    I'm not with cal fire but alaska fire service. You do your best when you are dealing with smoke. Tankers typically have thermal cameras or similar so they can see the flames when smoke is too heavy. Terrain awareness is a big concern.

    Usually in a crowded fire traffic area there will be air attack who plays atc and coordinated smoke jumpers, tankers, cargo drops etc. This helps make it easier to deal with smoke.

    The pictures are from a fire a month or so ago. Made it difficult to work around that smoke column[​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]

    Sent from my SM-G950U using Tapatalk
     
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  8. steingar

    steingar Taxi to Parking

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    Oh no, the dreaded 3 miles of visibility!

    image.png
     
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  9. midwestpa24

    midwestpa24 Line Up and Wait

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    Hey, if you have never done it, it can be quite intimidating. I remember my first time flying VFR in less than 5 miles vis. I think I sweat more on that flight than I do in a normal hockey game.
     
  10. steingar

    steingar Taxi to Parking

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    image.png
     
  11. Jsalter

    Jsalter Filing Flight Plan

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    I have to fly into the central valley and around California, small ag strips and airfields. The smoke over the last month has been awful. Above it, it looks like a solid marine layer, but it is smoke, not cloud! And going over Gorman/grape vine/mountains "VFR" in low vis was skeeeetchy to say the least. No big problem going into a towered field IFR, but the small strip approaches VFR have been pucker factor 5. Other aviators calling out IMC all around. Down in the weeds has better vis, but then you're mixing it up with the ag boys who don't talk on the radio, and near the TFRs the fire boys bombing the flames might or might not talk on the radio, and land in any direction they please. Hopefully I can avoid flying to the central valley anymore until the fires are under control.
     
  12. steingar

    steingar Taxi to Parking

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    Sorry, guys, but that kind of visibility is de rigueur for much the summer in the East.
     
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  13. Zeldman

    Zeldman Final Approach

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    Here in the southwest, visibility falls below 30 miles and people complain.

    I have been lost in smoke in Alaska. I was flying at tree top level, literally, while trying to find the runway at Tok. I think I was on a 2 mile final when someone calls wanting to depart straight towards me. I say I am hopefully on short final and the idiot calls, I'll take off and sidestep to my right. I tell him there is no forward visibility due to the smoke, but he decides to take off as I think I am on a 1 mile final. The tree tops disappeared telling me I am over the runway, so I drop down 30 feet to see the ground and discover I am over the gravel strip and land.

    As soon as I shut down, the smoke got into my eyes causing them to shut. The only way I can see is by prying my eye lids open. The smoke was so thick that the village ordered a mandatory evacuation as the fire was coming towards us. I stayed because I lived on the airport. Fortunately the fire got close to town when the wind changed and a little rain started falling.
     
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  14. Stephen Shore

    Stephen Shore Pre-takeoff checklist

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    I flew in to my home airport in NE Texas a few weeks ago and hit a solid layer of "African dust" as I began my decent. It was forecast to move across the south central US and it definitely did.

    I had filed IFR anyway but I was surprised to actually have to fly a GPS approach into my home airport.

    And yes, the "cloud" was red.
     
  15. arnoha

    arnoha Cleared for Takeoff

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    There are no mountains to hit there. It's a much bigger deal out here.
     
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  16. arnoha

    arnoha Cleared for Takeoff

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    Speaking of smoke...I'm bringing my plane home from Portland to Palo Alto next week. My plan is to swing west to the coast, since the prevailing wind should blow the smoke away from me. Anyone who's flown that way...would I be better served to stay just offshore down low at 2500' trying to stay under the smoke or fly up to 7500' or 8500' and try to be above it?

    I'm not all that concerned about visibility on my route, but I'm wondering if four or five hours of flying near a smoke cloud is going to leave me, my lungs, and my eyes beyond unhappy.
     
  17. MauleSkinner

    MauleSkinner En-Route

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    You might check a map on that...
     
  18. ktup-flyer

    ktup-flyer Pattern Altitude

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    That's the same boat I'd be in. My eyes start to sting when they're burning fields around here.
     
  19. arnoha

    arnoha Cleared for Takeoff

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    Here's the area being discussed in this thread:

    Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 1.34.24 PM.png Here's the entire East Coast:
    Screen Shot 2018-08-08 at 1.35.13 PM.png

    It's flat as a pancake in comparison.
     
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  20. Stephen Shore

    Stephen Shore Pre-takeoff checklist

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    You sure went to alot of trouble to prove you were right.

    Lawyer by any chance?
     
  21. asicer

    asicer Pattern Altitude

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  22. MauleSkinner

    MauleSkinner En-Route

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    Sorry...didn’t realize “the East” meant near water. To most people that I deal with, anything east of the Mississippi qualifies as “the East”.
     
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  23. arnoha

    arnoha Cleared for Takeoff

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    No, not a lawyer. And it wasn't a lot of effort. Screen cap one, screen cap two, upload. Took about 5 minutes.

    I was just unhappy that @steingar was calling someone out for being a coward with multiple giant, screen-filling stickers without understanding the situation. Mocking new pilots gets to me, especially ones making good, safe choices.
     
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  24. arnoha

    arnoha Cleared for Takeoff

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    Well aware it's first day and it'll be...interesting. I've attended the FAA talks about it and can do the new stuff already from memory alone with no avionics. Not too concerned with that. More worried about frequency congestion and other confused pilots.
     
  25. arnoha

    arnoha Cleared for Takeoff

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    You're right, he did say East and not East Coast, like I read it. Is the pollution really bad enough away from the East Coast population centers to drive the visibility below 3 miles?
     
  26. Kritchlow

    Kritchlow Final Approach

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    Summer haze
     
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  27. arnoha

    arnoha Cleared for Takeoff

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    I'm not familiar with flying around there (and now I'm not even sure where the where we're talking about is)...where and why does that haze show up? Around here that haze is generally caused by inversions trapping smog in valleys. Is that also what's going on over there? Curious.
     
  28. MauleSkinner

    MauleSkinner En-Route

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    What Kritchlow said...its like flying in a milk bottle for a lot of the summer. A lot of days it’s easy to fly into a cloud while VFR because it’s the same color as the rest of the sky. Or so I’m told.:rolleyes:
     
  29. arnoha

    arnoha Cleared for Takeoff

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    Sure, get that. Just trying to figure out what causes it and where it shows up. Would really help if I do end up flying East of the Mississippi in the summer. It's not a place I have experience flying.
     
  30. jsstevens

    jsstevens En-Route

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    In Florida it’s a combination of smog and water droplets. 3-5 miles viz is common if it’s not windy.

    That said, the OP did good. You have no idea when smoke will get a lot worse in a hurry.
     
  31. hawk25u

    hawk25u Pre-Flight

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    The night JFK jr crashed was a very hazy night plus he was over the Atlantic. At the time he went in I was flying from JFK to BOS. In those conditions he would have had no discernible horizon and depending upon how high he was would not be able to see the water. At night he probably couldn't. Here on the 'right' coast the haze can get nasty.
     
  32. benyflyguy

    benyflyguy Pre-takeoff checklist

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    Plus I think there was a new moon.
     
  33. denverpilot

    denverpilot Ejection Handle Pulled

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    On the other hand he knows said pilot is on the ground safely tapitty-tapping into a post here.

    So the razzing mostly serves to remind the newbies that lots of people don’t have much choice but to fly in midwestern visibility numbers like @steingar does or get an instrument ticket.

    But yes. 3 miles in haze, smoke, rain, snow, whatever — will freak anyone from “normal day is 50 miles vis land” Colorado, too. Ha. Totally freak them out.
     
  34. arnoha

    arnoha Cleared for Takeoff

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    Yeah, sure, I'm fairly certain the ribbing wasn't intended to be ill-natured. I'm still likely to call it out when I see it. I think as a person gets more experienced at something, we forget the vulnerability that comes with being inexperienced. We don't realize the work that went into the confidence we now sport.

    There's three ways someone might react to that mocking, two are bad, and one is a no-op. Ideally, the person sees it for what it is, and just lets the words roll by with no effect on them. And if that's your intent, uh, why bother with saying anything in the first place?

    Or they may, to a greater or lesser extent, have their confidence in their abilities eroded. "If everyone else flies in 3 miles vis without worry, why am I so freaked out by it?" There are few enough pilots as it is. We need not chase someone off for making a safe choice, even if it was more conservative than we might have picked.

    Alternately, they might decide to use the mocking as an indication of good practice. "Huh, guess 3 miles is always safe. I'll just fly anyway." Also..."Huh. Pilots interact with mocks and insults. I won't be a real pilot until I can harangue someone too." So, they either find some cumulogranite in the haze or they haze their way into becoming an ahole.

    And then we have fewer pilots flying fewer hours. And our chit becomes even more expensive. And we continue to be perceived by the outside world as elitist pricks. And our runways get demolished.

    Also, do you intend to stop quoting French Canadians? It's getting to be a habit, it seems.
     
  35. benyflyguy

    benyflyguy Pre-takeoff checklist

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    I actually look forward to the summer haze in the am. Usually means pretty smooth air mass. Working on my IR has made the summer haze something to look forward to.
     
  36. Heftiger

    Heftiger Pre-takeoff checklist

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    [​IMG]

    Here’s some of that haze. Near the Ferguson TFR.
     
  37. arnoha

    arnoha Cleared for Takeoff

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    Wow. If you didn't have the very bottom of the photo where the ground is visible, I would have assumed that is fog. I guess in that sort of visibility, GPS is your friend.
     
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  38. Zeldman

    Zeldman Final Approach

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    I wish you guys in California would put out your fires. It has been a smoky haze here for the last two weeks..... :yesnod::yesnod:

    upload_2018-8-9_22-16-28.jpeg
     
  39. woodchucker

    woodchucker Line Up and Wait

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    Yes, but on the other hand we are getting some pretty good sunsets here in Salt Lake. This one is just from tonight.

    upload_2018-8-9_22-31-12.jpeg
     
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  40. Zeldman

    Zeldman Final Approach

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    This evenings sunset here looked amazingly much like your picture. It started out as an orange dot then slowly turned gray before disappearing completely about 15 minutes before sunset.