Biomass burning is an important source of many trace gases in the global troposphere. We have constructed an airborne trace gas measurement system consisting of a Fourier transform infrared spectrometer (FTIR) coupled to a "flow-through" multipass cell (AFTIR) and installed it on a U. S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service King Air B-90. The first measurements with the new system were conducted in North Carolina during April 1997 on large, isolated biomass fire plumes. Simultaneous measurements included Global Positioning System (GPS); airborne sonde; particle light scattering, CO, and CO2; and integrated filter and canister samples. AFTIR spectra acquired within a few kilometers of the fires yielded excess mixing ratios for 10 of the most common trace gases in the smoke: water, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, formaldehyde, acetic acid, formic acid, methanol, ethylene, and ammonia. Emission ratios to carbon monoxide for formaldehyde, acetic acid, and methanol were each 2.5 ± 1 %. This is in excellent agreement with (and confirms the relevance of) our results from laboratory fires. However, these ratios are significantly higher than the emission ratios reported for these compounds in some previous studies of "fresh" smoke. We present a simple photochemical model calculation that suggests that oxygenated organic compounds should be included in the assessment of ozone formation in smoke plumes. Our measured emission factors indicate that biomass fires could account for a significant portion of the oxygenated organic compounds and HOx present in the tropical troposphere during the dry season. Our fire measurements, along with recent measurements of oxygenated biogenic emissions and oxygenated organic compounds in the free troposphere, indicate that these rarely measured compounds play a major, but poorly understood, role in the HOx, NOx, and O3 chemistry of the troposphere.