I'm The Stevie Wonder Of Airplane Engines
By Tom Woodward
I live on an airpark. My house is next to our runway. Non aviation folks try hard to avoid loud engine noises, but not me. I have become an expert at identifying different types of engines and associating them with specific airplanes without seeing them, in the same way Stevie Wonder knows music notes and instruments.
Saving a camping space in the North 40 has gone the way of the space shuttle and though I was disappointed that I couldn't park near my friends I was instead directed to the end of row 515. No one was parked between us and the runway. Each morning I was awakened at 6 am by the sound of aircraft departing for home. I challenged myself to identify the engine, which was easier than associating it with the proper aircraft. Here's my "engine sound" primer. See if you agree.
A Piper Cub is easy. The engine emits a put-put like sound from the 65-85 HP engine, but the sound lingers longer than most airplanes due to the slow speed of the Cub. Think Model T at about the same speed... or maybe a bit slower into a headwind.
A Bonanza has a throaty growl, very pleasing and at a frequency that is in my comfort level. The noise passes quickly. Baron engines sound the same but you can discern the difference from the Bo by the engines not being in sync. They sound like an a Capella group struggling to harmonize.
A Cessna Skymaster, though a twin, has it's own distinctive sound. Those engines each scream trying to be the first to arrive at their destination.
The T6 and the T28 are very similar and present a challenge to tell apart. There's no problem recognizing the loping sound of a radial engine and both airplanes rattle your fillings as their props strain to go supersonic, but the T6 is much quieter after passing and the T28 reminds you it's been there, driving those air molecules into your eardrums for some time after. Both are adequate alarm clocks.
Jets are easy. Some are loud and some pass almost unnoticed, like the Honda jet, which is the way of the future. Turboprops whine and howl at the same time, the engines have only full power or ground idle, but the props change the pitch that you hear.
A Lycoming 320/360 is a common sound. The airplane it's attached to can often be determined by the changing frequency of the approaching aircraft, due to the Doppler effect. It is different in a Piper or a Cessna than it is in an RV anything.
There is nothing like a multi-engined bomber. That must be the sound of freedom to those who served. We don't get any of those where I live so I come here to enjoy that sound. I continue to add to my catalog of engine noise here at Oshkosh and will continue to do so in the future.