What you do does make a difference to the folks on the ground
On April 27, a Boeing 747 being followed by two F-16s flew low over Manhattan Island with a roar that was all too familiar to New Yorkers. Terrified workers ran from their buildings. For thousands the feeling of terror was live and real again.
What were the folks in the 747 doing? Well, it happened to be one of the planes used as Air Force One and they wanted a low-level picture of it over the Statue of Liberty. Are these guys nuts? No, they are what I call aviation klutzes.
They simply had not thought through the impact they would have on the folks on the ground. While most of us don’t have near that impact on the people we are flying over, we do from time-to-time make transgressions that put us into the aviation klutz category.
It is a terrible admission to have to make, but I have to tell you that I have been an aviation klutz from time to time. I have inadvertently flown with my prop howling at high RPM over neighborhoods near the airport, directed my prop blast into a hangar, and copied ATIS and my clearance with the engine running loudly while parked next to the outdoor seating area of the airport coffee shop. Am I mean-spirited? I don’t think so. But like many pilots, I have been thoughtless. What’s worse, even though I have resolved to be a good aviation citizen, it is possible I will still descend to thoughtless klutzhood every now and then.
Now the truth is, being a good aviation citizen isn’t all that easy. When you are in an aircraft you are busy. Your attention is focused on what you are doing. Unless you take special effort to think about how you are affecting others, it won’t come to mind.
Plus, thoughtful citizenship is not normally included in the instruction program when we learn to fly. In fact, occasionally we have been trained to do something that has an unnecessarily negative impact on others. For example, instead of being trained to fly quietly on approach, we are often told to increase propeller RPM early on a constant-speed prop to be ready for a go-around.
I had never thought much about how my flying was affecting folks on the ground until I attended a series of neighborhood meetings about a proposed runway extension at our local airport. Some of the meetings had over a thousand attendees—and most had shown up to let everyone know how much the noise from airplanes bothered them. The number and intensity of these folks was a great surprise to me. For the first time I realized that if we wanted to keep our airport, we were going to have to be more considerate of our neighbors.
There are a few little things you can do that will make a big difference. For instance, climbing at best angle-of-climb speed right after takeoff not only multiplies your alternatives in the event of an engine failure, but it reduces your noise impact on the neighborhood geometrically as you gain altitude.
Since much of the noise made by airplanes is caused by the speed of the propeller blade tips, keeping prop RPM low anytime you are over a populated area makes a huge difference. Most manufacturers approve RPMs as low as 1800. Many pilots with constant-speed props are afraid of operating their engines at that low an RPM, because we were erroneously taught never to operate over-square (with manifold pressure in inches greater than RPM in hundreds). So consequently, we needlessly fly over neighborhoods with our props screaming away even when we are in no hurry and just enjoying the view.
You can also reduce neighborhood noise by keeping your pattern tight and delaying your descent in the pattern until you are on a normal descent path to the runway. A lot of pilots start their descent abeam the landing point regardless of how extended the traffic pattern has become, and wind up flying an extended pattern at low altitude over neighborhood homes.
Your alternative when the pattern becomes extended is to hold your altitude, slow down, keep the airplane to follow in sight, and turn base when they pass abeam you on final. This keeps your noise footprint closer to the airport and has the safety advantage of making it easier for everybody to keep pattern traffic in sight.
To be a thoughtful aviation citizen, you don’t necessarily have to put others ahead of yourself. Just think about the effect you have on others. It will cost you very little, if anything, to minimize that effect. The little effort it does take will pay rich dividends to the aviation community from greater support for airports and general aviation.