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October 10, 2006

Airplanes Overhead

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

At our Seattle house I often hear sounds of airplanes overhead.

Some folks hate the sounds of airplane engines. I rather enjoy them.

I suppose my quirk is related to when and where I was a boy. That was in Seattle during the 1940s.

Seattle has been an aircraft town for 90 years, thanks to the presence of Boeing. But when I was young, the greatest factor was the (now defunct) Sand Point Naval Air Station located a little more than an air mile from my house in northeast Seattle.

Sand Point was hopping during World War 2 of course, but it stayed quite busy well into the 1950s because it was an important Naval Air Reserve station. The runway was too short for serious jet use (I recall seeing Navy versions of T-33 trainers there, but that was about all), so its value declined starting in the mid-50s.

The most commonly heard (and seen) planes for me during and shortly after the war were DC3 airliners, PBY and PBM flying boat patrol bombers, TBF Avenger torpedo bombers and F6F Hellcat fighters.

By 1950 or thereabouts, the F6Fs were replaced by F8F Bearcats that were so fast they sometimes outran their sounds when seen from a distance -- something one normally associates with jets. Patrol bombers were PB4Ys, the naval version of the WW2 B-24 Army bomber. I recall them making a huge amount of noise when a number of them were warming up their motors before morning flights.

The plane I remember best was the PBY (see photo below). Being a flying boat, it had a broad belly. And its engines were closely spaced thanks to its raised wing. Seen from the ground, PBYs often looked like they had only one engine, one being obscured by the fat fuselage.

Consolidated PBY.jpg
Consolidated PBY Catalina.

The planes I see and hear nowadays are mostly jetliners on takeoff and landing flight paths for SeaTac airport. They aren't nearly as various and interesting as what I witnessed in, say, 1948. Nevertheless I find them curiously comforting.



posted by Donald at October 10, 2006


Ah, the Catalina.
One of the reasons we won the Battle of the Atlantic. Almost, but not quite indestructible, as you can see here -

Never saw one flying, but did make a model kit when I was a kid.

Posted by: Nigel on October 10, 2006 3:29 PM

Your posting sort of piqued my interest, and I looked at the site of Sand Point (now Magnuson Park) on the Google Maps satellite photos. I *think* some traces of the old runways exist, in the layout of parking areas. But by and large it was a pretty thorough demolition job :)

Posted by: Peter on October 10, 2006 3:34 PM

Aircraft noise is good stuff. Civilian jets are OK if there are no military ones around.

One of my friends is a former F-18 pilot. He used to have a bumper sticker on his truck that said "Jet Noise, the Sound of Freedom". True in more ways than one.

I grew up near Weymouth Naval Air Station. The mid-Cold War jet noise of F-4 Phantoms, P-3 Orions, once in a great while an F-14 (just retired from the Fleet the other, RIP) and other Naval flying hardware is a fond memory.

Posted by: Lexington Green on October 10, 2006 9:09 PM

Living near General Dynamics and Carswell AFB, as well as Fort Wolters to the west meant many flyovers by all sorts of aircraft. I remember as a kid playing outdoors in the summertime, I would hear the drone of a prop plane off in the distance. For some reason, I never associated the sound with an airplane, instead it was just what summer sounded like - the drone, grasshoppers buzzing, and the music of an ice cream truck down the street.

I had an "aha!" moment when I was about 13 and realized that the drone came from a mechanical thing and not Mother Nature.

Stop laughing, right now, you hear?

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on October 11, 2006 10:37 AM

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