03 March 2007

Jet Engines: The Sound of Home

We're back in Palm Desert. We came down yesterday, arriving at about 1400. I brought a few things in from the van and plopped down in my purple leather recliner to go online. As I sat here catching up with the blogs I heard an airplane flying overhead, throttling back to land at Bermuda Dunes airport (UDD). It wasn't really overhead, because they try not to fly over the development; instead, they fly over I-10 and the railroad tracks, but it was close enough as makes no difference.

A lot of the airplanes I hear are bizjets, although there are a fair number of aircraft with reciprocating engines (or is that reciprocal? they're called recips, generally, and I'm not entirely certain what the expansion should be). The jets are what make it sound right. The jet engines the Learjets use are, essentially, the jet engine the T-38 Talon uses, minus the afterburner. I've certainly heard enough T-38s in my life to know how they sound.

The fatter, higher-bypass engines don't sound quite the same, but they still sound OK. Maybe it's not quite the fighter "sound of freedom", but it's close. I mean, it's not like a two-man of F-4s doing max-performance take-offs, but what is?

You should hear it when there's some sort of special event, like a golf or tennis tournament. Last winter President Bush came to Palm Springs for a fund-raising dinner. (Air Force 1 went to the Palm Springs Airport (PSP) and the private planes came to Bermuda Dunes.) They start a day or two before, light in the morning and heavier as the day goes on. The closer it gets to the event, the heavier the traffic. After the event they leave in a constant stream, just far enough apart to let each plane taxi onto the runway, do the last part of the checklist, and take off.

There's a voluntary curfew for turbine aircraft between 2300 and 0600, with occasional emphasis on "voluntary". Jet traffic didn't come to a complete halt at 2300 after dinner with the President, for example. There's a lot fewer violations before 0600, not surprisingly.

There are no sonic booms here, though. I miss them, too, but not as much. There'd been a real drop-off in booms at Edwards because flight time had really dropped off. I can remember periods where there'd be booms all day, like when the F-22 was clearing the envelope. Of course, I can also remember when they'd fire Saturn engines at night, getting ready for the Apollo flights.

I also remember the day the B-2 made its maiden flight. We were watching the take-off preparations on TV, before leaving for work, and we could hear the engines through the open windows. It was a little disconcerting to be actually hearing what we were watching on TV, if you see what I mean. Later that morning, at work, they announced that the B-2 was over the mines (the US Borax open-pit mines) and would be landing in a bit. Everyone headed out to the ramp or the roof and we watched it maneuvering for a while and then doing a long straight-in approach and landing. What an amazing airplane!

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