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A racket about noise

For a few months, I have had a line of thought brewing in my mind, which is a superlative form of the majesty of flight, applying it to the magnificence of the Alps and other mountain regions. As I would get close enough to make the concept emotionally tangible, something ridiculous would happen, such as my diatribes from the last two months about maintenance nonsense. While the airplane is flying and I have had some transcendent moments, I find that grasping and sharing that concept is still a bit out of reach.

It starts with that pesky reality called noise in Switzerland. I recently have had the unbridled joy of forgetting what sleep is like, as sociological changes brought on by the pandemic have created a sudden flood of people looking to squeeze themselves into flats next to ours, which has resulted in a raucous construction boom. As I laid there most certainly not asleep, snarling about the noise, I thought to myself how noise has reared its ugly head a number of times with Swiss flying.

I must first point out that patterns in Switzerland are not standard. They are unique to each airfield, necessitating looking at the Visual Approach Chart, to follow it within a moderate latitude under the risk of a fine from the Swiss authorities. The reason is due to noise, as these patterns snake around villages and other physical obstacles. To some extent, it makes sense, and it can also be very interesting, such as the approach into Saanen, which features rather sizable terrain just to the south of the field that has to be avoided.

In 2019, when I was flying for a while out of a different airfield, I got an email from someone I did not recognize. He attached a map and a photo of me flying over his house, noting that I have been “repeatedly” climbing over his house, and he is “kindly” asking me to stop doing it as he doesn’t like the noise. I thought the request was rather intrusive, as I was 1,500’ to 2,000’ above his property, choosing the path to avoid two other villages, though I couldn’t help but wonder if I was missing something. After all, it is a different country with different customs, and the guy was a pilot, noting that he “didn’t make a report to the police” and instead contacted me. I forwarded it off to another pilot friend, who said that it was incredibly considerate, as the custom is to report people and let the police handle it. At any rate, it was rather curious how the guy found me and got my email address, though I digress.

My next flirtation with noise was from a lesson taken in a PA-18-95 from an aeroclub about 35 minutes away. I decided to have a backup and be ready to go in case my aircraft goes down for maintenance again. The cost wasn’t as bad as I thought ($200/hr wet, fully insured with today’s exchange rate) and it is an aircraft rather similar to mine. I must confess that I was thrilled that this “perfect” airplane, maintained under EASA standards, smelled like exhaust like every other rag and tube Cub and had oil streaking down the belly…

Anyhow, during the course of the one-hour checkout, roughly 20% of the content of the lesson was about exactly where to point the noise coming into and out of that airfield due to very specific properties where the owner will call the police in the event of overflight. It was literally down to various houses, where the traffic pattern involved snaking this way and that, sometimes counterintuitively over a populated village to avoid a private school where an immortal hell is raised if it is flown over. The funny thing is that flying 200-500 feet laterally from the houses in question (while still rather high) is enough to sate these noise totalitarians. I am rather convinced that slant distance variation (and therefore noise reduction) is very minor from having done so. If it quiets these terrestrial dwellers, then best not to poke the hornet’s nest.

My third flirtation with noise is associated with my inherent passive aggressive reaction to fastidious and exacting rules. At all Swiss airports, like most of Europe, there is a closing time. Like Germany, it is important, so when dealing with the formula of “sunset plus 30 minutes or 8:00PM, whichever is earlier,” I start to ask my nitpicking questions. “Is it wheels down at 20:00, or pulled to a stop at the hangar with the engine shut off?” The reply was “Wheels down at 19:59, not 20:00.” Ok, so 19:59:59 it is which lead to a philosophical dilemma during a sunset flight.

After a, say, two-hour flight in the mountains, it is logical to return early enough to not trigger the collapse of the European order by landing after 8PM. Arriving over town at 7:47, I could dive in and land at 7:52 or…. I could circle and land at 7:59. Flying a really slow pattern at 45mph, nose up, behind the curve, the tires chirp at 7:58:30, leaving me quite proud of the situation. This was not the first time, though it was the closest to the appointed time.

After putting the airplane away, I was walking to the car and noticed an airplane careening into the circuit, obviously doing a full speed descent and then rapidly slowing down on short final and landing at….8:10 PM. Since it is not Germany, perhaps there is some grace and the situation isn’t the end of the world? Three minutes later, as I am loading things into my car, a Land Rover comes screeching into the parking lot, where the deputy CEO comes running over asking which airplane it was. As he lives under the approach path, it was evident to him what had occurred. He explained to me “the trouble we can get from the commune” and, before racing to address the problem, noted “I saw you come over at 7:57. Nice job.”

I explained the situation to my wife, and she asked, “Why didn’t you land at 7:50?” “Out of principle” I replied. “This silly rule drives me crazy and, since I am paying a landing fee, I am going to get every last minute I can.” “You need to stop torturing him and land at 7:50,” so said the woman who last got in my airplane in December 2014. I have to admit, she has quite a point, so I quit antagonizing the establishment. Are a few minutes worth annoying the people that own the place where I station my aircraft?

That brings me back to this duplicitous and hypocritical noise regime, where I find myself paying to not be able to sleep. “Go back to America,” the builder told me in so many words, for which I contacted the owner, a Super Cub pilot, and, well, I am sleeping again. The whole situation is one of many variables that has me in one of my cyclical states of misery (they happen every 8-20 months), where I get fed up and am ready to move back to America. So far, I haven’t done it but who knows, maybe someday I will. The mere thought of American aviation freedom is so utterly salacious at this point…..

Escaping the heat on the Italian side of the Matterhorn. They don’t care much about noise over here.

At 15,000 feet looking down on Chamonix, France. There were climbers on the ice that stopped their hike to presumably glare at the airplane making noise.

Solving the noise problem….fly above the clouds so nobody can tell who is making such an “obscene racket.”

 

 

Garrett Fisher is an aerial adventure photographer, having photographed some of the most rugged and wild terrain in America from his 1949 Piper PA-11. After living in Germany with the Cub, he recently moved to the Spanish Pyrenees to continue the flying adventure. He has published six aerial photography books covering the Colorado Rockies, Wyoming, high terrain in the Southeast, and the Outer Banks, with more US and European books in the pipeline. He blogs regularly about his flights at www.garrettfisher.me.

1 Comment

  1. Amazing that so many people in our country want us to be more like Europe in all things.

    I once had an Italian pilot take some dual instruction from me here in the States, and he commented that he had once owned a Cherokee back home. I asked him what happened to it. He said, “Well, I paid $65k for the plane, and shortly thereafter received a $65k tax bill. I told the tax man I’d have to sell the plane to pay the tax, and with a satisfied smile he replied ‘Exactly’”.

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