The amount of noise that can come with a quick flight on an airplane can be astounding—and off-putting, if you’re not familiar with how a plane actually works. From the various dings chiming through the cabin while you’re taking off to the wind pummeling your window, it’s easy for your nerves to spike mid-flight.
But where there is mystery, there are almost always answers. One noise that has always boggled my mind is the series of dings that signal as the plane is preparing to take off. I spoke with David Arneson, a flight instructor at the FlightSafety International in Wichita, Kansas to shed some light on those quizzical noises. Arneson teaches ground school for the Hawker Jet, an 8-seat business jet. He leads classes on how the plane works, from the electrical systems and landing gear to the flight controls and pressurization.
According to Arneson, the noises coming from your airplane really depends on what aircraft it is. But as for the dings you hear early in your flight, there’s an easy answer. “Those are the seat belt chimes being dinged by the flight crew in the cockpit as a signal to the flight attendants that the flight has been cleared for take-off,” Arneson says. “The flight attendants must be seated and strapped in and the cabin secured.” All of that being said, it is a flying down the runway at high speeds can be a stressful time to hear a series of alarms.
Another thing to keep it mind: It’s actually really loud inside of an airplane, so your ears are already being over-worked. “Think of driving a car at 20 mph; It’s relatively quiet. But at 80 mph it’s quite noisy inside due to much more wind noise at the higher speed, the tires turning faster, and the engine working harder,” says Arneson. “In an airplane, you’re traveling at more than 500 mph so there’s a lot of wind noise around the airplane and the engines are producing more power to propel the airplane through the air—both those sounds work their way into the cabin area (especially if you are sitting close to where the engines are). You can also have up to 200 or more people talking in the background in a very small space.”
When I asked Arneson if there are any other noises that tend to put flyers on edge, he mentioned a high-pitched noise coming from the floor as the plane pushes away from the gate. Immediately, the hair on my arms rose in reaction, recalling a recent flight where the noise and associated bump caused me to jump a bit in my seat. “The flight crew is turning on a hydraulic pump to pressurize the hydraulic system—it’s the hydraulic motor that makes that sound,” Arneson says. “Sometimes it’s the flap motor (also located under the floor between the wings which extends or retracts the flaps).”
And for those still looking for reassurance around the bump in the middle of their flight, Arneson has a few words for you: “In all my 38 years of flying there are really no surprising noises to me. They all have a meaning.”