Flying Above All………….

Flying in a Milk Bottle


For years I heard that expression.  I always equated it with flying “in the soup” (in clouds, where you couldn’t see outside).


Smoke in California this year has changed that.  Wildfires are widespread, and at times we have had active fires that we simply could not fight with aircraft, because of the dense smoke

(Fire aircraft have to be able to maneuver in “visual conditions”, where terrain can be seen constantly…no “instrument flying” for this job).  Normally, the mountains, trees, and lakes of Northern California are a pleasant backdrop for the trip to and from the fire.

Lake Almanor

Typically, the fire can be seen from a distance…

fire 7.20


The lightning storms set up many fires…we would try to get retardant “line” around them.


retardant drop 8.20


Sometimes, we would get a decent line….only to lose it as the wind and fire “won the battle”

Retardant line 8.20


This summer, however, due to the smoke, there were days we could not even take off.  The end of the runway would be obscured by smoke.

smoky base

On days that the visibility would improve somewhat, we would go to the fire.  However, the old expression “like flying in a milk bottle” made sense.  Even the sun would fade.

sunset through the smoke 8.20


The “mighty 802” doesn’t have autopilot.  It has “neutral stability”, which is great for maneuvering, but is a lot of work for flying, especially when the horizon is indefinite.  The GPS drew the magic magenta line, and by closely keeping the ground in sight, and following that, the fire would appear. The drop would be made, and back for another load.


This summer has had a lot of “obscuration” of the path for me.  Lots of “indefinite horizons”.  Sometimes the path isn’t clear, and the weather has to be dodged.  Defining the route, keeping on the course, and hitting the target has become my priority.  That goes for flying, as well.

Author: planedoc

Having survived the medical world for a few decades, I'm pursuing flight, firefighting, wrench turning, and enjoying my family. I have a passion for "warbirds" specifically the P51 and T-6, the Corsair, and do airshows in those planes. I fly "The Mighty 802" fighting wildfires, and have a great time in my SX and Husky. Oh, yeah, I occasionally show up at the hospital and pass gas.

4 thoughts on “Flying in a Milk Bottle

  1. Awesome views. Be safe out there, Friend


  2. Fly safe. Stay safe.


  3. Love it. Good article!

    Sent from my iPhone


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