Pigs in Space and Noise

March 14, 2012 by Bruce Landsberg

It’s a shock to some pilots to discover that a lot of people find aircraft noise distasteful – especially those who live near airports. Our response is usually that since the airport was invariably there first, they should have thought of that before buying a house. While this attitude is understandable and righteous, it doesn’t endear us to our neighbors and it isn’t always effective in saving an airport. Is there a better way and what’s that got to do with the title since space is a vacuum and noise is never an issue?

I recently came across a story that was touting NASA’s efforts in helping the game-maker Rovio develop a sequel to the phenomenally successful Angry Birds. The premise behind the game for the 15 people on the planet who haven’t played it yet, is to obliterate pigs who have stolen eggs from the birds. To topple Pigdom, angry birds are catapulted into a pig infrastructure, and to wipe out the beasties one must understand ballistic trajectory. NASA thought this would be a cool way to introduce those concepts and the physics of space into the classroom. I agree – very clever.

Perhaps we could also ask NASA to use some of that formidable brain power to help the light aircraft industry develop some cost effective quiet propellers. Roughly 60-70% of aircraft noise comes from the prop and as the tips speed up, the worse it gets. On some models of aircraft a very noticeable high pitched whine will spread over the landscape. It won’t wake the dead but pretty much everyone else, and as a result GA airports are under siege all over the country by angry neighbors and cash-strapped municipalities. Safety is frequently trotted out as the issue but it’s really about noise and money.

NASA has done much to quiet jet engines in last several decades, so I wonder if, in addition to helping the game makers whack pigs in space, we could get a little help in solving a core issue for light aircraft. This also applies to helicopters. Stealth technology is developing into a high art form and perhaps without giving away all the secrets, a dozen decibels could be shaved off our aircraft.

AOPA is working hard to educate zoning boards and town councils on land use and the value of airports. Maybe we should create a game that illustrates the point.

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • jim

    It’s not just prop tip speed.

    At my home airport, a neighbor identified the vibration from jet engines (small citation size) as more disruptive than the noise of the twin and tri-islanders that were used in frequent, daliy commuter service. (His house is within 1 mile of the departure end of prevailing wind runway)

  • Alexis

    Well, all the four iterations of the SimCity games/simulators did a good job of showing that residential areas are not compatible with airports… maybe it’s time for Will Wright (creator of the franchise) to make a smartphone version.

  • Yvan

    Reducing noise of 10-12dB with new prop will not solve or even reduce opposition. The very small number of neighbors will not recognize the reduction and will argue that the airports have to be shut down anyway. Let’s work on information and relations between airport and all the neighbors. 5-10% will continue to yell… Work on the 90%!