I launched on a night cross country flight this evening with a pilot who’s approaching his checkride date. He’s got over 100 hours logged, largely because he’s doing his primary training in an SR22.
The big question mark for me before departure was how the wildfires in the Santa Ana canyon would affect this VFR flight. Since Dan is based out at Chino, I got a poor man’s weather briefing from him. The smoke was headed westbound and then south. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the fires were on the south side of the 91 freeway. For some eason I’d assumed they were on the north side, closer to Prado Dam. Once I discovered their true location, the smoke patterns made more sense. The Santa Ana winds blow the smoke westward until the terrain drops down, then it heads south.
Nevertheless, METARs and TAFs all across the L.A. basin were solid VFR. Just as we rolled down the runway, the tower reported a change to 2500 broken. I explained that this METAR was made by a weather observer on the ground who, while professionally trained, is a human and sometimes gets it wrong. This was one of those times, and the skies were actually clear. Since the official forecast was VFR, we were legal to depart. And once in the air, we could maintain VFR conditions, so it was all good.
At TOA, at least. As we headed eastbound, the visibility steadily declined. The line between the smoke-covered areas and the crystal-clear ones was so well defined that I filed a PIREP with Flight Watch:
CNO UA /OV TOA-VPLSA/TM 0530/FL065/TP SR20/WX IMC FU S LINE TOA-SANTA ANA CANYON
OK, so they got the aircraft type wrong. The gist of it is right. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a fire so prominent that it can be used as a VFR checkpoint.
After we returned, it hit me: flying around here is tough! We went from Torrance to Redlands on a path that took us right over a 5000′ MSL flight restriction. At one point, we were above class D, 1000′ below class B, just north of class C, 1000′ above the fire TFR, and just north of another TFR (Disneyland), all the while navigating in marginal visibility.