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Keep Those Run-ups Noisy

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I never thought Iíd say this, but I think Iím becoming more sympathetic to people who donít like airplane noise. And Iím not talking about fly-over noiseóthatís transient and it at least affords the option of momentarily looking up to see whatís making it. I like that kind.

Iím talking about airport ground noise; the grindingly long run-up at full power or the incessant whine of an APU thatís been on for about 30 minutes too long to keep the bossís drinks chilled. I noticed this the other day at Centennial Airport near Denver. Rick Durden and I were shooting video in a hangar not too far from one of the run-up areas. During camera setup, I was vaguely conscious of a rising irritation from hearing two or three airplanes at run-up power for what like seemed like 10 minutes each, but was probably more like four minutes. And thatís probably three minutes and 30 seconds longer than a run-up needs to be.

I think I know whatís going on, too. Because weíve come to equate procedure with safety and checklists with procedure, I think pilots are being taught to use the cookbook method when doing a run-up. Set throttle at 1700 RPM. Check. Lose place on checklist, find it again, check oil pressure and charge rate. Check. Lose place again. Perform mag check and so on. So the engine screeches along at high power, making noise and wasting fuel while providing the pilot no discernibly useful information about the pending flight.

For a while there, maybe in the late 1990s, flow methods were popular and thatís what I taught. Flow over to the throttle, set it at 1700 RPM, flow the engine instruments, check the mags, cycle the prop and set the throttle to quiet again. Twenty seconds, tops. Then run the checklist to make sure you didnít miss anything. This is the single-pilot version of challenge/response.

I think the checklist and training industry has made this kind of sensible approach obsolete, aided and abetted by large cockpit displaysóor tablets--that can readily list even more checklist items. And, well, shoot, we all know the more stuff on your checklist, the safer you are. I swear, I think I remember seeing one that mentioned the pilotís meds and sort of asked you if you were feeling all right. Got clean underwear on? Hey, you never know.

At my home airport, they address the annoying ground noise problem with a run-up pad on an old closed runway in the center of the field. Makes sense. I generally donít use it because the Cubís brakes arenít effective enough to do a static run-up, so I do a rolling run-up on the departure runway. I doubt if anyone hears a thing. But in a loud airplane, I do use the mid-field pad, just as requested.

I wonder if instructors ought to think through how they teach new pilots run-up procedures, not just for noise, but for the sake of wear and tear on the airplane and common sense. While weíre at it, let's think about not punching the prop control forward on downwind and treating everyone to the howl that creates. Iím pretty sure Iím not the only old crank around the airport who could do with a little less pointless noise. We should consider each other as much as we consider the airport neighbors.

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Comments (23)

Two thoughts, Paul. A lot of newer pilots (and a lot of older pilots, too), have no idea what the systems in their aircraft do. They run the checklist because that's what they were taught to do, and if something doesn't "check", they freeze without considering whether they can skip that step, or not. So they stay at 1700 RPM while figuring out what to do next, rather than having lost their place in the checklist. I wish I had a dime for every fouled plug I've helped someone clear AFTER they shut down.

Was there a maintenance facility near you? Some maintenance procedures (Continental's fuel flow set-up comes to mind), require full power application, though certainly not for extended periods. But 30 seconds at max available RPM can sound like hours at a heavy metal concert.

Posted by: Ripley Quinby | March 11, 2014 8:27 PM    Report this comment

Well, at least you did not hear a nice loud bang by someone switching the mags off while at 1700 RPM. And I agree, pilot sensitivity to noise abatement will make friends or perhaps just allow our cult to go unchallenged by neighbors.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | March 11, 2014 8:28 PM    Report this comment

Thanks, but no thanks.

When a Harley roars by and shakes the fillings loose in my teeth, it's not done for safety or responsibility. If a pilot was trained incorrectly, or is just inconsiderate or unaware - imagine that - then, fine, hopefully that pilot will eventually learn to polish up his/her procedures - if he wants to. But I've had enough of picking apart every little freaking thing we do as pilots just to appease those who would have us all quit flying and just live more sensibly.

Sometimes my runup is twenty seconds, sometimes maybe a minute. Depends on what I am listening to and feeling about the aircraft and the engine, and there are plenty of other reasons to shorten or lengthen a runup. The corvair sounds beautiful, just like my tuned exhaust on my classic car does.

Maybe for some who fly a lot and spend hours on end at airports this becomes irritating, but it doesn't bother me at all. The older I get, the more I enjoy the experience of simplicity and sound, whether on the road with the car or in the air with the plane.

Posted by: David Miller | March 12, 2014 5:07 AM    Report this comment

Knowing what each checklist item s intended to achieve is far more important than executing each item. When briefing low-wing pilots regarding start / taxi / takeoff items, one of my favorite questions is "if we turn on the electric fuel pump for startup, and we make sure that it's turned on for takeoff, why do we turn it off before we start to taxi?" It still amazes me that so few pilots (including old-timers) can come up with the correct answer. Checklists can provide bountiful inspiration for teachable moments.

I like to point out that safety and courtesy often are complementary - the quietest procedures often provide increased safety. Keep your pattern in tight; don't fly long-and-low high-power approaches; push up the prop controls on short final; climb at best rate airspeed, at reduced-RPM power settings. In other words, keep the high-noise-level contour as close-in to the airport as you safely can. (Unless you fly something that's really fast. Our based F-15s are loud, but the noise never lasts for very long!)

Have you ever researched how much of a passing aircraft's noise signature is airframe-generated? Our local C-5s provide a good example, but even a lowly Piper Arrow exhibits a lot more whistle when its landing gear is deployed, than when it's retracted.

While we're at it, I still teach a 45-degrees-to-the taxiway-centerline positioning for runups. Gives a better view of the runway environment, and tosses taxiway debris somewhere other than into the face of trailing aircraft on the taxiway. Courtesy can be practical, too.

Posted by: Tom Yarsley | March 12, 2014 7:33 AM    Report this comment

Student pilots take an inordinate amount of time running the checklist during run-ups. I haven't been able to get the flow to sink in. Invariably, they missed something and end up doing another RPM run-up after the run the checklist, adding to the time and noise. I also want them to understand what they're checking and what specifically they're looking for. I believe new students are task saturated right after I say "Ok, go pre-flight the plane".

Some people just forget what it was like to be overwhelmed by the process of learning to fly. I suggest those people go do a type rating in a 737 to remind them that not everyone flies a plane the first time like they've been doing it their entire life.

Posted by: Jerry Plante | March 12, 2014 8:09 AM    Report this comment

In today's day and age, being considerate and sensible to other peoples desires for a silent lifestyle (or anything, really) doesn't translate into appreciation. It translates into delayed punishment.

IOW's we could be skipping the runup for noise abatement purposes and all we would get in return is people taking the newly found silence for granted, complaining all the louder if one of us finally decided to do a runup. You can't appease people who don't have any concern for anyone but themselves. We've tried in Europe and it doesn't work. Airplanes make noise, we try to minimize it where we can, and that's that.

We've had the same argument with foreigners about taxiing too fast to save money. I personally prefer the pilot sitting and doing a proper runup as long as the pilot is not just going through a set of rote memorized duty items as spelled out on the checklist, but actually knows enough about their systems to properly evaluate them. If that takes a little longer initially, so be it, the noise of any piston powered aircraft still beats the sound of any Yaaaamaaaahhaaaaaaaa rice cooker driven by a brainless drug addict and it certainly beats the sound of any Harley Davidson Hog farting by for a minute and a half, leaving anyone in its surroundings wishing for ANR headsets. How about large trucks ignoring Engine Brake signs in residential areas?

Talk about annoying sounds that never want to go away. How about a 1000HP speedboat that will convert a river valley into a humming mass of audio terror, while the peasants wait and wonder if we will remember the porch based conversation we stopped, while some ego blaster conducts his drive-by activities. I tell ya, you can't hear yourself think! No airplane short of a AN2 makes this much noise.

Mr. Schmucksgotchickstoimpress travels up and down a tidal river at ~35-40MPH and I swear, you can hear him 3 miles out, either direction. He doesn't give a flying (or swimming) rats ass about the people living there and he certainly won't be told how to drive and operate his ego extension. We should not, either. Courtesy and respect for one another's needs is a two way street and when it comes down to it, we should have the same rights as anyone else.

Posted by: Jason Baker | March 12, 2014 8:37 AM    Report this comment

The comments touched on where the aircraft is pointed; but that deserves repeating. Please do not run-up into my open hangar. Or into the row of cars parked in designated parking spaces at the airport restaurant. I'm a fan of the run-up flow as Paul mentions, and even in a "fancy" G-1000 that can be completed in 30 seconds or less. Although I teach the standard trifecta "Cycle-the-prop" litany on initial start, I'm perfectly happy with doing it just once on subsequent starts in the same day.

Posted by: SHANNON FORREST | March 12, 2014 8:58 AM    Report this comment

Some day everything will make perfect sense...

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | March 12, 2014 9:09 AM    Report this comment

If diesel-powered aircraft ever become more popular there's gonna be a lot more noise coming from run-up areas.

We often have to spend 10 or more minutes sitting at the run-up area with both diesel engines operating at 50% power in order to bring the engine oil, gearbox oil, and coolant levels up to operating temperatures -- so we can then push buttons to have the FADEC computers execute the automated run-up procedure to cycle the props and governors. Austro engines are relatively quiet but the props still make lots of racket.

Posted by: DAVE PASSMORE | March 12, 2014 9:37 AM    Report this comment

ABSOLUTELY to flows. I look for them all the time and re-write checklists to match - if this doesn't compromise the order of the systems you are checking and why. The lists were written by one person, the cockpit laid out by another and in older small GA - they rarely match. Gets amusing when you fly with a younger "Checklist CFI" who tells you you didn't do it by the "list" - meaning the one he got from the school.

Posted by: Graeme Smith | March 12, 2014 9:48 AM    Report this comment

I guess I'm less annoyed by the noise of lengthy run-ups than I am by the length of them while blocking the taxiway. I've had this happen several times: the airplane ahead of me, instead of remaining at the run-up pad, pulls forward, not to the hold short line, but close enough into the stub taxiway enough that no one can get by. OK, so a normal run-up shouldn't take more than 20-30 seconds. But then there's the call to Clearance for the IFR to wherever. But first it's necessary to find the chart with Clearance Delivery's frequency. Then, because the pilot's head is bowed, I can tell that there's copying and reading back. Oh, then it's time to set the radios, check the routing once again, and by now, there's some question whether the mixture ought to be reset. So let's do the run-up again, just to make sure.

Meanwhile, there are now half a dozen airplanes in line, waiting to take off, because they've all done their run-ups but can't go anywhere. If Yokel Pilot had done all of his preparation in the run-up pad, I'd be halfway to Denver by now. Grrrr!

Those are the same pilots who use a B-52 size pattern when they're flying a 172 in a busy pattern, or who make a straight-in opposite to the direction of all of the other traffic, or do their run-ups on the tie down so that they're blasting the airplanes behind them, etc.

So there's always going to be those inconsiderate pilots who have no regard for anyone else, because the world revolves around them--but isn't that true in all walks of life? As a population, we're really no different than the rest of society. There're good folk, there're bad folk, and there're all kinds of folk in between. Really, all we can do about all that is endeavor to be classed among the good folk, right?

Posted by: Cary Alburn | March 12, 2014 9:56 AM    Report this comment

I use checklists alot, but there are a few things where a flow is better. I own the prop, and as long as the aircraft is at runup power that prop is sucking in pebbles and stones, so I keep the runup as short as possible just doing the necessary. When power is down, then I am back to the checklist.

Posted by: JOHN LUNSETH | March 12, 2014 10:27 AM    Report this comment

"Gets amusing when you fly with a younger "Checklist CFI" who tells you you didn't do it by the "list" - meaning the one he got from the school."

Shouldn't the presumably-older CFIs be partially blamed for these younger "checklist CFIs" habits? Or possibly the school they work for, or their examiners? After all, they started out like everyone else, and must have been told and/or encouraged to adapt such habits.

Speaking of checklists, one thing I learned early on in my primary training days was to make my own checklists. I'd take the standard checklist from the POH, and modify it to highlight steps I found I had a tendency to skip, remove some obvious ones, and reorder others that didn't have a specific need to be in the POH-designed order. I also added my own visual markers throughout the checklist to make it easier for me to quickly pick up from where I left off. Doing this not only helped me develop my own flows, but also memorize more of the checklist so I would be more aware of what's actually on it. This helps during the run-up so even including the time for me to check the engine analyzer, perform my flow, then verify with the checklist, they still only last 30-60 seconds.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | March 12, 2014 10:30 AM    Report this comment

Agree simple checklists are best. When you add more and more items it gets unwieldy and then you risk missing the REALLY important stuff. Does anybody remember GUMP anymore?

I know this article is about runup noise, but I absolutely love the sound of a 65hp Continental powered airplane flying over; I could listen to that all day. It must have been ingrained at a young age for me. That is the classical airplane sound in my opinion.

And regarding airframe generated noise, I've noticed you can recognize a PA-22 Pacer/Tri-Pacer flying over by the whistle it makes without even looking outside. Must be something about the tailbrace wires or short wing struts but it's enough of a unique signature to be recognizable.

Posted by: A Richie | March 12, 2014 10:44 AM    Report this comment

Ever hear a Piaggio Avanti? Normal you don't think of a runup for a turbine but in this airplane there is a requirement for an autofeather check prior to each takeoff. Getting noise complaints were common when this airplane first appeared. It is even banned into SMO. When doing the runup I had to be carefull where the prop blast was aimed (required full RPM when checking autofeather). I still think it is more the unique sound of the 5 bladed props than the volume that annoys people about this airplane.

Posted by: matthew wagner | March 12, 2014 11:04 AM    Report this comment

Engine mufflers (silencers) and shorter props, adding a blade or two if necessary (or even a fancy composite curved blade), make a huge difference -- enough of a difference to silence those "we are going to shut you down because of the noise" noises you get in more densely populated parts of the world.

Posted by: John Patson | March 12, 2014 12:03 PM    Report this comment

Didn't know the Piaggio has a mandatory autofeather check. In the MU-2 I just hoped the negative torque sensing valve worked! And that brings up a whole new level in noise. To all of you I inadvertently made deaf while sitting idle in the Mitz.... I'm sorry!

Posted by: SHANNON FORREST | March 12, 2014 12:49 PM    Report this comment

I still teach GUMP and CIGAR. Use the mnemonic, then back it up with the checklist when safe. After-take off check - 500 AGL, engine instruments green, set climb power. One of my pet peeves (if you instruct for any length of time, you build up a whole collection of pet peeves) is watching someone flying single-pilot with their head buried in a checklist anywhere but sitting on the ramp or in cruise.

Posted by: Chris McLellan | March 12, 2014 12:50 PM    Report this comment

I am not for long runups but recognize that POH or aftermarket checklists are not always complete or expanded to a clear and practical extent. I often fly aircraft that are retrofitted where the original aircraft handbook is inappropiate. So I note and add as needed - this includes the confirmation of systems and gauges. As an example, I like to explain the reasons for cycling the prop(s) and what to look for even at the expense of a few seconds and the making for additional noise.

1st. Cycle. Check MAP gauge, pressure should increase. 2d. Cycle. Check tachometer gauge, RPM should decrease. 3d. Cycle. Check Oil Pressure gauge, pressure should decrease. Then check windshield for evidence of oil out of prop governor.

Some experienced pilots and new CFIs have willingly accepted this small checklist addendum and explanation.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | March 12, 2014 1:04 PM    Report this comment

Another pet peeve akin to head-down checklist mode is heads-down fumbling with the microphone when trying to stick it back in the mike holder bracket. I did this in the pattern once and had an instructor royally chew me out for it; I never did that again! Head must be on a swivel and scanning especially in the pattern. Yes, nobody used headsets in those days.

Posted by: A Richie | March 12, 2014 1:07 PM    Report this comment

"1st. Cycle. Check MAP gauge, pressure should increase. 2d. Cycle. Check tachometer gauge, RPM should decrease. 3d. Cycle. Check Oil Pressure gauge, pressure should decrease. Then check windshield for evidence of oil out of prop governor."

Glad to see I'm not the only one who does precisely that :-) (Though in my particular plane, I swap 1 & 2 for the sake of the flow).

Posted by: Gary Baluha | March 12, 2014 3:47 PM    Report this comment

Gary, it just makes for a safe and good operating practice - it's a crosscheck of performance and gauges. The systems may be ok but the gauges may be faulty, students should understand this. Thanks.

Posted by: Rafael Sierra | March 12, 2014 9:31 PM    Report this comment

Yup, and it's also a good exercise in demonstrating systems knowledge. I advocate checklist usage (even if it's as simple as a GUMPS check before landing), but I've seen some people use checklists in lieu of proper systems knowledge, without really being able to explain *why* they're checking something.

Posted by: Gary Baluha | March 13, 2014 11:03 AM    Report this comment

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