WE-CAN scientists Frank Flocke, Emily Fischer and other collaborators aboard the NSF/NCAR C-130, loaded with instrumentation for studying wildfire smoke.

Courtesy of Colorado State University

What is smoke made of? It may seem like a simple question, but the answer is just one of many an airborne research team is investigating above wildfires. Colorado State University professor Emily Fischer leads a team of scientists in a specially outfitted C-130 aircraft to discover the chemistry of wildfire emissions. Fischer talked to Colorado Matters about what goes into conducting experiments while flying.

The C-130 aircraft Fischer uses can carry about 30 scientific instruments and 18 scientists. Many other researchers stay on the ground, monitoring fires, smoke and weather to help guide the plane into prime data-collecting zones. The team has to make sure they can access the airspace without interfering with firefighting aircraft. Fischer wants to answer how smoke travels, how it affects neighboring clouds and how different types of forests create different kinds of smoke.