This paper investigates the properties of biomass burning aerosols over West Africa using data from the UK FAAM aircraft during the Dust and Biomass-burning Experiment (DABEX). Aged biomass burning aerosols were widespread across the region, often at altitudes up to 4 km. Fresh biomass burning aerosols were observed at low altitudes by flying through smoke plumes from agricultural fires. The aircraft measured aerosol size distributions, optical properties, and vertical distributions. Single scattering albedo varied from 0.73 to 0.93 (at 0.55 μm) in aerosol layers dominated by biomass burning aerosol. We attribute much of this variation to the variable proportion of mineral dust and biomass burning aerosol. We estimate the single scattering albedo of aged biomass burning aerosol to be around 0.81 with an instrumental uncertainty of ±0.05. External mixing, and possibly internal mixing, between the biomass burning aerosol and mineral dust presents an additional source of uncertainty in this estimate. The size distributions of biomass burning aerosols were dominated by particles with radii smaller than 0.35 μm. A 20% increase of count mean radius was observed when contrasting fresh and aged biomass burning aerosols, accompanied by changes in the shape of the size distribution. These changes suggest growth by coagulation and condensation. Extinction coefficients, asymmetry parameters, and Angstrom exponents are calculated from Mie theory, using the lognormal fits to the measured size distributions and assumed refractive indices.