'Flying in braille'

Chantelle Deacon

For pilots, conditions in the sky right now are "very intense," says Kathleen Poynton, pilot and owner of Full Moon Air Services Ltd. in Vernon.

The smoke might be bad for allergies, but it's also proven to be a challenge for many pilots.

"The smoke puts you into a position where you are flying in braille a little bit more than the visual rules," said Shawn Sanders, a Vernon pilot.

"If you are flying visually, you're still supposed to keep the terrain and other things in sight and use that as your primary reference, but as you see when we were up at 10, 11 or 12,000 feet, that reference doesn't really exist clearly.

"Essentially, we were using some of the instruments as a cross-reference for the terrain."

Pilots across the province are flying back and forth battling wildfires, and the heavy smoke makes that journey a lot more difficult.

Sanders has fought B.C. wildfires via helicopter, and he says it's not as glamorous as it may appear.

"When you are actioning the fires, (the smoke) certainly adds some challenge to it."

Thankfully, the technology most planes have nowadays significantly helps the pilots, Sanders says.

With the heavy smoke, pilots have to be even more cautious of their surroundings in the sky.

"You have to be very aware of other traffic because they can just come out of the smoke," Poynton said. "You put on lots of lights and try to make your aircraft very visible."

Not only does the smoke hinder the functionality of planes, but the hot temperatures aren't beneficial either.

"The heat, as far as the engine management goes, we have to climb out at a higher airspeed and a lower nose attitude to get more engine cooling," Poynton said, adding the planes are cooled by the air.

"Try to avoid prolonged climbs because it heats the engine up."

Vernon residents can expect to see increased air traffic. Many BC Wildfire helicopters are landing at the Vernon Airport to refuel.

BC Wildfire Service personnel continue to work hard battling hundreds of wildfires across the province, in excruciating hot temperatures.

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