Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Aviation Without A Soundtrack?

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

Other times, I’ll hear the unmistakable beat of a round motor, but this time it’s clicking right along, so I hotfoot it for the door, knowing that besides mounting a round motor, at one time this particular airframe probably carried machine guns. The sound of a fast-moving round motor means an ancient warrior is about to pass into view—and I don’t want to miss that rare opportunity.

Sometimes the round motor is plural. The sound of several of them bespeaks one of two things: a multi-engine, round-motored airplane that can’t be missed as it does its flyover, or a number of round motors in varying formations. If the sound is slow-moving, I know the Stearman guys up at Carefree (what an aptly named little town) are headed south and I have to get out and watch their surprisingly solid formation. If it’s a bunch of faster-moving round motors, it’s part of the herd of Yak-52s and CJ6s from Deer Valley that sometimes travel in well-orchestrated swarms. Often it’s a quartet of mechanical singers that form a totally unmistakable harmony: The CAF’s B-17 based across town is about to grace us with its presence.

And then there’s the whop-whop-whop sound that can only mean one thing: Huey. Here, too, it’s usually plural—some of the local units are still flying Slicks and Snakes, and they almost never venture out alone. It’s really a kick to watch a flight of three Super Cobras beating the air aside to make holes for them to fly through.

Of course there’s the occasional, “What the….?” sound that I absolutely can’t identify. We had one of those last week, and I listened for a longer-than-normal period of time, as I tried to attach the sound to a mental image but couldn’t. It was distinctly weird (at least weird in aviation-listening terms), and I could tell they were big, relatively slow-turning blades, but what were they attached to? I got out in the backyard in plenty
of time to see it coming, but until it gained visual form, I had no idea what I was hearing or what I was seeing. It was my first V-22 Osprey, so I can be forgiven that I couldn’t identify it. You don’t see one of those every day at the local ‘drome.

The point is that it’s seldom that an airplane of any kind flies over people of any persuasion and at least a few of them don’t look up and visually track it. They don’t have to be airplane people to look. But, they do have to be people who are capable of dreaming—and who wonder what’s over the far horizon. As the airplane disappears in the distance, most of us watching are probably picturing the cockpit and how we’d look flying it. We try to imagine where it’s going and what the pilot’s seeing. An airplane that visits our personal space for even a few moments fires our imagination and inevitably puts a portion of our soul in the air going right along with it.

Now, about the guy who sent me the nastygram: I don’t know where he fits into the scheme of things, but he’s missing one of the more important factors of airplane noise. If they were silent, we wouldn’t know when to look up, and in missing them we’d be deprived of one of life’s subtle pleasures. And it’s free! Unfortunately, I’m betting he doesn’t see it that way. Too bad. That’s his loss.

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