Enjoying the Garbage

September 2008

C'mon, we've ALL done it.

Remember back when you were a kid, and your folks gave you a present in a big box?  Often as not, you'd end up playing more with that big box rather than the expensive present that came inside of it.  Funny how much enjoyment one can get out of a bit of garbage.

It's funny, too, how things don't change.  For some of us, at least.

It's not that our airplanes are landfill fodder.  It's just that, for me, the things that I enjoy most about flying are really the "garbage" elements; the stuff that indicates some sort of waste or inefficiency.  Sure, the view's nice, and it's fun to fly to someplace new and interesting.  But when you sit back and imagine a perfect day of flying, you're probably dwelling on the garbage.

 I realize this might be a hard concept to swallow.  But here's an easy example:  What's the most satisfactory sound you hear during a landing?

That's right...The "chirp" as the tires kiss the runway.  Here's a quarter's worth of rubber being scrubbed off your Goodyears...and you smile.

I first realized how much fun the garbage was years ago, back when I flew Pete Bowers' original Fly Baby in the Chapter 26 club.  I'd tie the tail down, put the chocks on the wheels, then handprop it to start.  I'd have to walk in front of the wing to remove the chocks, which initially was a bit scary with the prop idling a few feet away.

But then I noticed something.  As I crouched by the wheel, I could hear an odd fluttering whistle.  I turned forward, and realized it was the sound of the tip of each propeller blade going by.  Part of the aerodynamic drag on each blade was being converted into turbulence near the audible range, which dopplered up and down twice an engine rev.  A perfectly efficient blade, of course, would be silent.

With my ears wide open, I heard other sounds as well.  The muted bubbling mumble of the exhaust.  The varied ticks and humms of the idling Continental.  And when ready for takeoff, we all look forward to that big roar from the engine compartment.

Most of my flying has been in open cockpit airplanes, and they really bring you closer to the garbage of flight.  The sharp "Shirrrrrr" of the bracing wires is the most famous.  Drag converted into noise, again.  This is one bit of garbage you don't have to be in the plane to enjoy...friends tell me that they can always tell when I'm coming in to land just by the shriek of the rigging.

The Fly Baby's landing wires (bracing wires on top of the wing) go a bit slack in flight, and tend to shake a bit.  Wasted energy, again.  I normally can't feel it, but sometimes I just lift my arm outside the cockpit and rest my fingers lightly on the wires to pick up the quivering.

Even my nose gets into the act.  Sometimes, which conditions are right, I'll get a quick waft of exhaust smell when I chop the power for landing.  Otherwise, I can just enjoy the faint odor of hot oil after I land and shut down.

The irony is, most of this "garbage" can be eliminated.  A cantilever or strut-braced wing would eliminate the singing of the wires.  A closed cockpit would keep my hand in the cockpit as well as doing a better job of keeping the smells out.

But no, thank you.  I want to play with the box a few years longer.

Ron Wanttaja

Return to the Stories Page