Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Aviation Without A Soundtrack?

One man’s noise is often another man’s music

ROUND-MOTOR HUM. Budd can recognize the sound of a Stearman formation before it’s in sight.
The other day, I got yet another nastygram. This one from an individual who had read somewhere that my airplane has no mufflers. He had never even seen the airplane, but he’d read about it, and felt driven to comment on it. Even though my little bird came out of the factory with no mufflers, after a lengthy e-mail exchange, his summation of the situation was that “…just because it was certified without mufflers doesn’t mean it should be flown,” and he advised me to “…give up your selfish hobby that is inconveniencing so many on the ground.”

The exchange was much longer, a little more tense and much more ridiculous than the above, but one of my arguing points was that I really do everything that I can to keep from irritating those on the ground. I pride myself on being considerate to others. That, of course, made no difference to this individual. One thing worthwhile, however, did come out of the conversation: Over the course of the several days when the exchanges took place, I began to notice how many people—pilot and otherwise—look up when an airplane passes overhead. It’s a conditioned response. And there’s almost always a pleased, sometimes wistful, expression on their face.

Even standing in my open hangar engaged in conversation with hardcore aviation types, when an airplane is heard winding up on takeoff, everyone turns in unison and watches. While the airplane is out of sight on the other side of the hangar and about to slip its surly bonds, most will cock an ear and venture a very educated guess as to the airplane type, but the conversation doesn’t suffer a bit. It’s understood that pausing to watch an airplane take off is a given. Cherokee, Gulfstream, Cub, F/A-18 Hornet, LSA, no matter. We love them all, and every single one gets our undivided attention.

I’ll be sitting here at the computer and I’ll hear an airplane in the distance coming this direction. Unfortunately, other than a super-narrow floor-to-ceiling opening that looks suspiciously like a gun slit right behind my main monitor, I have no convenient airplane-watching window. So, I can’t see an airplane unless it’s right in the middle of the narrow piece of sky defined by my window. Normally, I just glance up, in the off chance it will pass through my tiny slice of the world. Once in a while, however, I’ll be on my feet, headed for the door at the first sound. I’ll have heard an oh-so-familiar sound that says “round motor.”

Often, the sound is slow-moving, and the image that my mind instantly forms is that of a biplane. Its high-drag airframe is attached to the back of the round motor like an anachronistic drag chute straining to slow it down.

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