Feeling like I'm in a WWII movie here...
August 2, 2011 6:49 PM   Subscribe

[AviationFilter]I live in a medium-sized college town in central VA. Starting at about 8:30pm (and continuing as of this post at 9:46pm), we have had two smaller prop planes buzzing our neighborhood. We do live within a half-mile of the airport. These planes are flying at less than 1000 ft. What is the "cut-off" time for this kind of thing?

I'm aware that flights can land at our local airport until 11pm or so, but this is seemingly ceaseless circles every 3 to 4 minutes. I normally wouldn't care, but it was low enough and loud enough to wake my 8-year-old son. Is there a "curfew" for this kind of flying?
posted by kuanes to Travel & Transportation around Virginia (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
FWIW, one of the planes is a small Cessna-type plane that isn't quite as loud, but the other seems to me to be the size of a DC-10.
posted by kuanes at 6:50 PM on August 2, 2011

Sounds like they are doing landing practice - touch down, power up, take off and go around again. I imagine they can go on until 11. But if it is a controlled airport, then you can call and ask.
posted by procrastination at 6:57 PM on August 2, 2011

I was planning to call tomorrow morning, but I was hoping to utilize the hivemind for this before that...

Also, I understand Navy pilots practicing touch down/power up/take off again off an aircraft carrier, but a small airport that handles prop planes and small jets? I don't think that's the deal here....
posted by kuanes at 7:09 PM on August 2, 2011

Here in the deep south it is not uncommon for planes to be spraying for mosquitoes in the evening and night.
posted by JujuB at 7:13 PM on August 2, 2011

I do touch and go landings for practice in a cessna at small airports, yes. But at night? not so often. It is possible they are trying to get certified... and 1k feet is the start of the 'landing rectangle' pattern. if they are actually buzzing, under 1k or 500 feet is probably enough to get them in trouble. Does the airport have a tower? If it does, its much more tightly controlled (but I sorta doubt it has a tower) No tower means you might have to find out who is renting them the planes to complain. Good luck!
posted by Jacen at 7:30 PM on August 2, 2011

In general there is no time of day cut-off. Many airports have local curfews where pilots are requested not to fly after a certain time.That is almost always a request, not a requirement, but pilots understand engine noise makes for bad neighbours. Note that pilots do train at night and in summer night can be awfully late in coming. In my area most airports request no training an hour or two after sunset.

Are the airplanes landing and taking off again? Or circling over your house? In general planes are not supposed to fly below 1000' over towns except for the specific purpose of taking and landing off. But you live next to an airport; I imagine you're used to hearing planes taking off and landing from time to time.

If you tell us the town or airport we could find out more for you. The place to follow up would be to call your airport manager. Noise complaints from neighbours of airports are very common and handling them appropriately is a big part of managing an airport.
posted by Nelson at 7:51 PM on August 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, I understand Navy pilots practicing touch down/power up/take off again off an aircraft carrier, but a small airport that handles prop planes and small jets? I don't think that's the deal here....

I don't know about the night flying (is it even dark?) but touch-and-go landings are a fundamental part of pilot training for even the most basic pilots license. This would have to be done in small prop planes and likely repeated in any new 'type' the pilots encounter, as (after all) landing is arguably the hardest part...
posted by Brockles at 8:03 PM on August 2, 2011

Yeah, sounds like touch and goes. Totally normal for a small airport and I think in order to get a license or keep current pilots have to do a few at night every so often.

1000 feet is normal for the pattern, and they can fly less then that if they're on approach or takeoff. Note that they can start their decent before they turn on final for the runway.
posted by bondcliff at 8:10 PM on August 2, 2011

How is their behavior different from that of other aircraft near your residence? If you live within a half mile of the airport, I'm sure it's somewhat common to see or hear planes landing or taking off, and I can't tell from your description what these planes are doing differently. If the answer is "it's at night", then we need to know the specific airport to assess what regulations might be relevant.

And do you know how huge a DC-10 is? That's a three-engine (jet) wide body, seats over 250 passengers.
posted by kiltedtaco at 9:32 PM on August 2, 2011

Hey Kuanes, sorry to hear about the noise disturbance. I'm a CERTIFIED PILOT (haven't flown in years) and this sounds just as bondcliff mentioned - standard flying practice.

When I did this last (in 2002?) I was practicing at all times of the day, dawn, dusk, and -- when working on my night rating -- throughout the evening as well.

There are typically no curfews or cutoff times (such is the danger of living near an airport, unfortunately), but the regulated flight paths sometimes do change during "noise sensitive" times of the day. I live on the coast, so that means you have to make all your approaches over the water after dusk. That doesn't always work though, depending on your geography, weather patterns, and city layout (changing the flightpath often just annoys your neighbors instead of you).

This is also why houses near airports are cheaper, so hopefully you got a discount? :/

As a pilot I get kinda uppity at people that complain that they are - well - living near an airport. But, *grits teeth*, if you want to start a local grassroots campaign, get some signatures together, and start lodging formal complaints - you can probably get a time restriction placed on the airport for non-commercial (eg: training/hobbyist) flights.

Keep in mind that whatever flight school is nearby might lose business and shut down, and guys like me will weep gently into our beers, move to other cities, and furrow our brows really hard. :)

Here's a website made by an avid anti-noise member of a retirement community I used to fly near:


it succeeded in dismantling the Air Cadet program and ran a flight school and a charter operation out of their town of Qualicum Beach, BC (Canada). Put me out of work in the process. But you can find success by making angry websites if that is your desire :)
posted by weasel at 11:26 PM on August 2, 2011

We're used to planes landing/taking off. Thankfully, the approach is not over our house. This was just a lot of circling at very low (IMO) altitudes.

And it may not have been a DC-10 :-P

...but it sure was big for flying that low.
posted by kuanes at 4:31 AM on August 3, 2011

Touch-and-goes at night are fairly unusual as far as flight training goes; none of the flight instructors I know would do something like that and most flight schools bar night touch-and-goes due to insurance issues. They may still be doing landing practice, a 5 minute turnaround doesn't sound too outrageous, especially if you're being quick about it (and when you're being billed by the tenth of an hour, you are being quick about it!).

Other possibilities - engine out landing practice to an emergency field (although with an airport right there probably unlikely) or someone is circling your area taking photographs.

As others have said, there's no cut-off time for flying low over the terrain but some airports do have voluntary quiet hours. Some will "encourage" the quiet hours by charging some ridiculous overnight fee if you absolutely must take off or land during that time. Keep in mind also that if your local airport has a control tower, then the landing pattern may change after the tower shuts down for the night.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:32 AM on August 3, 2011

We had a pair of C-130s circling over our northeast Rhode Island town about a month ago; they were there after dinner, so say about 6:00 to 7:00, round and round, just over the trees. My cousin used to be a pilot instructor in this plane, so I asked him about whether it could be training (esp. touch-and-goes). He agreed this was the case, so I thought no more about it. *shrug* There's a small regional airport in the next town over, and based on the direction they were coming from and returning to, I figured they were using its short runway.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:59 AM on August 3, 2011

@Kuanes: "Circuit altitude" for doing training touch-n-goes I've seen from 600-1000 feet (1000 feet is definitely "normal"), and planes of any size can fly this. Larger aircraft need practice too. The circuit pattern can extend 1-5 miles and largely depends on the speed of the aircraft (bigger aircraft have bigger circuits).

They might not even be from your airport - sometimes we went to smaller airports so we'd be bugging less people.

@Backseatpilot: Touch-n-goes at night just depend on airport size - we had a rather large field (1000 meters) and it was no problem. Doing it at night on a short community field is another matter, and you're right - usually barred. :)

Landing, backtracking, and taking off again (controlled tower), or pulling off the runway and scooting back - you could definitely be in the air in under 3 minutes. Sounds just like a touch-n-go when it happens that fast!

@wenestvedt: Military planes (such as C130s) often do military exercises practicing ultra-low-level flight and navigation, at day and night. Occasionally I'll see a few military-grey cargo planes skimming the trees.

Other explanations: If you're near an ocean it might be coast guard trying to sneak up on a boat, or if you're near a border they might be trying to snap some pictures of illegal immigrants or something. Or it might just be someone out for a pleasure flight - I like the process of flying and it's no big deal for me to grab the keys and put in a few circuits (anytime of the day I please - and night is particularly beautiful, looking down at city lights).

And my favorite explanation: The people that publish the airport directories and make the official maps and audit the navigational beacon systems often use a big plane loaded with sensors and make a few passes at *every* airport (it tours around the country). They make sure all the navigational gear is lined up properly and makes sense. I think it also takes pictures? (At least up here in Canada, we have a few of those planes).

@Kuanes: I guess the conclusion here is "It could be anything" and there's probably nothing wrong, illegal, or out of line with it. But you can probably lobby to stop it if it bugs you enough.
posted by weasel at 10:19 AM on August 3, 2011

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