In July 2016, I flew down to Philadelphia to visit my aunt on an American Airlines Airbus A320. While I’d flown on the carrier’s A319s, A321s, and A330s, I’d never gotten the chance to try the A320. Needless to say, it was a comfortable ride, and one consistent with my experiences on American.
However, the way back was far more exciting in my opinion, as I got to sit in front of the engine – the one engine that I’d always wanted to enjoy on TOGA power, the Rolls-Royce RB211, which powers a variety of Boeing 747, 757, and 767 aircraft – in seat 5F.
As I explain here, most passengers on aircraft with wing-mounted engines won’t hear the buzzsaw noise. Ultimately, the noise is created by the fan’s blades spinning at speeds faster than the speed of sound. However, this noise isn’t heard by everyone on the plane. Those sitting behind the engine hear more of a “whoosh” from the exhaust. Ultimately, the only passengers who hear the buzzsaw are those seated in front of the engines.
This noise is particularly poignant when sitting in front of the engines on a British Airways 747-400, my favorite plane. The sound is a rather low-pitched “grinding” sound, and BA is one of a few carriers that has RB211-powered 747s. Indeed, given my affinity for the BA 747, as well as the incredible sound of the engines that power it, there is no doubt that the RB211 is my favorite engine.
However, my only way of getting to hear the buzzsaw of the BA engines would be to fly in a BA 747’s World Traveller Plus section. After all, there’s no way that I’d pay to fly in Club World or First. Even so, buying a WT+ ticket would be a significant investment. As such, I realized that my chance of getting to hear that unique buzzsaw sound from inside a plane during takeoff was rather small.
That is, however, until I realized that the sound of an RB211-524 – the particular model which powers BA’s 747s – on takeoff power is effectively the same as an RB211-535, which powers AA’s 757s. After all, both come from the same RB211 family, and they retain many similar characteristics, particularly in appearance. So, instead of paying a large sum to fly at the front of a BA 747 – of which only certain ones have World Traveller Plus situated in front of the engines – I paid an extra $20 or so to sit at the front of the AA 757 that would be taking me from Philadelphia back to Boston.
The boarding of the plane went relatively smoothly. However, once I was seated, I found myself anxiously awaiting takeoff. After all, this was the one takeoff that I had been looking forward to for quite some time. Though I’d flown on BA 747s back in Fall 2014 and an RB211-powered United Airlines 757 back in May, I was seated well behind the engines on all three occasions, so this would be my first time flying in a position where I’d be able to hear the RB211 buzzsaw noise. Indeed, I was excited for this particular rotation.
Following pushback, we had a relatively uneventful taxi out to Runway 27L. After a couple of false alarms where I thought the takeoff roll was imminent, I started filming approximately a minute before we turned onto the runway.
The engines spooled up as I had anticipated, and were soon at takeoff power. I recognized the unique sound, but I was also focused on getting a quality video of the takeoff. Soon enough, we were airborne. I was in dreamland.
After filming was complete, I sat back to enjoy the flight. The engines pulled back from takeoff power, and we continued to climb. It was a sunny day, so I enjoyed looking out the window, even if I spent most of the flight looking out to sea.
While I anticipated we’d be making an approach to Runway 33L, we ended up lining for Runway 27. I enjoy the 27 approach, as it takes you very low over water, Winthrop, and then water again, before land appears seemingly from nowhere and – before you know it – the spoilers are up.
As such, we made our approach low over the water, before smoothly touching down on 27. Impulsively, I started filming, and caught film of the touchdown, although my phone gave me a low battery notification which stunted the angle a bit. Regardless, it was a quality landing, and a fitting conclusion to a good flight.
All in all, I was very pleased with how things turned out. The seat gave me a good angle of the engine and fan, and I captured the sound well. To top it all off, I even got footage of the landing. I believe my favorite flight that I’ve taken to date is my return from England in 2014, with the outbound flight 2nd in that category, but I’d have to say that this is 3rd on the list, and it’ll take quite something to dismantle this from the proverbial podium.