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What would happen if someone flew a brand new Cessna Skylane/Caravan or a Robinson R22 without using earplugs or headphones? Would they get hearing damage or it would be just a little bit loud where communication with co-pilot need constant yelling? How serious ear damage is?

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    $\begingroup$ Related $\endgroup$
    – Pondlife
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 22:48
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    $\begingroup$ I don't know anything about the damage but R22 without headphones is a no no if you want to communicate even with the person sitting next to you. It is really really loud inside. Dug Dug Dug Dug Dug $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 2:47

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This study on cabin noise with experiments in a Cessna 172s and a Piper PA-44 got the following results (noise comparisons are mine):

  • Peak:
    • Without headset: 101.3 dBA = rock concert (not front row though)
    • With headset: ~88 dBA* = vacuum cleaner (old bag-style ones, not Dyson...)
  • Average:
    • Without headset: 86.26 dBA = heavy traffic (by the side of the road)
    • With headset: ~73 dBA* = cloth dryer

Those value are not terrible per-se but on the long term ear damage is very likely.


*The study found that a headset reduces the loudness by 13 dBA in average. The reduction should be even higher with a noise cancelling headset.

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    $\begingroup$ I think even quieter with noise cancelling headsets. $\endgroup$
    – CrossRoads
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 13:29
  • $\begingroup$ @CrossRoads of course. I have Bose's A20 and it's really really quiet. $\endgroup$
    – Quentin H
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 13:30
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    $\begingroup$ And to think that when I started flying headsets were considered a luxury. Feeling old... $\endgroup$ Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 13:55
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    $\begingroup$ I don't like sticking things in my ears. Over the ear protection is my preference. If you want them off quick, a swipe of the hand and they are off, or you can lift one off and listen to unmodified sound if you think you are noticing something different sounding than normal. $\endgroup$
    – CrossRoads
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 18:20
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    $\begingroup$ To give an indication: in industry (at least around here), everything over 85 dB(A) means you're required to use noise dampeners (headphones, earplugs, etc.). So doing this for a while may cost you a bit of your hearing and doing it often would cost you a larger chunk of it. Communicating with those noise levels is going to be a challenge and uncomfortable to say the least. $\endgroup$
    – Mast
    Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 13:21
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To supplement Quentin's answer, the effects are accumulative and depend on the level of exposure.

Most of the noise in a cockpit is low frequency sound of 75 to 100 hz with a 4 cyl engine/2 blade prop or 100 to 150 hz with a 6 cyl and 3 blade prop. Then there is the usual wide spectrum machinery noise and the white noise from the airflow.

Long term exposure above about 84 dB will create hearing loss. Short term exposure above 105-110 dB will create hearing loss of some amount after one shortish exposure, maybe only a couple percent, but repeat it a number of times and you start to notice. If something makes your ears ring temporarily after, that's bad.

84 dB is about the level of driving a convertible with the top down at 70 mph (that came from research done in Britain on hearing loss from driving). A rock concert is above 100 dB. Once reason concert sound levels are so high (besides the fact they are catering to foolish young people) is the sound guys themselves are half deaf (One of my children is a performer and musicians and sound techs in the last decade or so have finally started to take steps to protect their hearing).

Airplane noise levels vary a lot. The quietest aircraft are wooden ones, and composite ones, and ones with thick windshields and windows.

I'm in my early 60s with pretty good hearing below about 12 kHz, which is actually really good for my age, but with tinnitus that is a steady 10-12 kHz tone that never goes away, that I've had for many years but slowly gets louder as I age. I've worn earplugs and/or headsets since I learned to fly in 1975 and I'm sure I'd be pretty much nearly deaf if I hadn't. Tinnitus can come from things other than loud noise, so it may just be bad luck.

Today, I wear an passive noise reduction headset, with ANR added, AND earplugs, having become obsessive about avoiding more hearing loss and making my tinnitus worse.

Anyway, a one-time flight with no hearing protection for an hour, in anything that doesn't leave your ears ringing after, probably won't have any more effect than all the other loud noises you will be exposed to over the years. It's repeated exposure.

So if you have no choice in the matter, I wouldn't be concerned about a one-time ride, but don't make a habit of it. But you really should take earplugs with you, and if you are offered a headset and/or earplugs, you are crazy to turn them down.

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  • $\begingroup$ So John, are you saying wear earplugs underneath your headset>? $\endgroup$
    – Cloud
    Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 8:51
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    $\begingroup$ I do, but I don't have the really high end ANR headset like the Bose or Lightspeed, I have an ANR conversion of my ancient set of Dave Clarks. I wear EPs under them because I like it as quiet as I can possibly get it, and you can hear the radio voice fine with earplugs in (I turn the radio a little bit louder). For casual exposure it would be overkill. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Commented Mar 29, 2023 at 13:17
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks John, I fly about 3 hours a week in a C42 and it hurts my ears :) Will try this $\endgroup$
    – Cloud
    Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 11:26
  • $\begingroup$ With a headset on? $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 12:37
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah wear earplugs under them. I modify 3M Plug In earplugs with a few inches of lead foil tape, used for gold club ballast, wrapped around the blue plastic peg and covered with heat shrink tube. The lead attenuates low frequencies really well. Most of the noise you're being bombarded with is 60-120 hz. Or search online for low frequency attenuating earplugs if you don't want to do that. Foam ones are better than nothing tho. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Commented Mar 30, 2023 at 17:09
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I measured levels in the cockpit area of a twin Cessna where the propellers were inline with the pilot to the left and right and levels were 110dBA where I would be sitting. Levels were 100 in the back in the cabin. Without headsets, it would be impossible to communicate with crew/passengers and I'm sure hearing loss would result.

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If you're crew, you probably want to be wearing a headset for communication purposes.

For passengers, these airplanes were flown for many decades before headsets became common (even for crew, using the handheld mic and overhead speaker) and long-time instructors had slight hearing loss, but for the random person taking a scenic flight to look at leaves or property on an occasional basis, I think you'd be fine without hearing protection.

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    $\begingroup$ Many people don't wear earplugs to rock concerts. Many don't protect their ears when using saws and similar machines or when shooting just a few rounds. But people do get ear problems from that. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 11:06
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Yes they would get hearing damage. In fact if not using active noise-cancelling headsets, it is wise to wear earplugs in addition to a headset.

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Comm's would be very difficult, and hearing would be damaged eventually (ringing in ears, like being at loud rock concert). 180 horsepower engine in R22 makes a lot of noise, then add in noise from props and blades, and radio over an overhead speaker is about impossible to hear.

Skyline has even more horsepower with its bigger engine. I think 6 cylinder.

Caravan, is that piston engine or a turboprop?

Noise cancelling headsets take out a lot of the low frequency noise, and make things so much more comfortable. Mine are from headsetsinc.com, are not ridiculously expensive, and work great behind my 180HP engine, no mental fatigue from noise after a 3 hour flight with ATC chattering away the whole time (lots of comm's going on in the northeast with Boston, New York, Albany).

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  • $\begingroup$ Do you have the Dave Clark retrofit kit from Headsets Inc? I have that kit in my DCs that I bought in 1976. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 13:20
  • $\begingroup$ I have that in 3 older pairs that I bought in 1996 or so, and recently bought 2 new pairs from them with music input Jack and automatic battery box turn off. Older units that I did the replacement on myself are 20 years old now and need to be disassembled and rewired to some extent. Volume knob in one, 2nd has developed a loose ground somewhere, 3rd I haven't worked out what it needs yet. $\endgroup$
    – CrossRoads
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 13:27
  • $\begingroup$ I modified by DCs about 10 years ago but have never been able to compare them to modern dedicated ones like Zulu3s. I did an additional enhancement on my DCs by taking the modules out and encasing them in several layers of lead tape, the stuff you can get at golf stores for ballasting clubs. There is a detectable difference. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 13:31
  • $\begingroup$ What does the lead tape provide? $\endgroup$
    – CrossRoads
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 15:31
  • $\begingroup$ Additional low frequency damping to make the ANR module's job easier. I once worked on a DeHavilland Buffalo that had a VIP corporate style interior (for an Arab leader in the Gulf) and the inside of the fuselage was lined with a couple thousand pounds of a sound insulation with lead foil with foam on each side, glued to the interior structure. Similar to what's inside the apron the dentist drapes over you when you get an xray. The interior of this Buff was super quiet. $\endgroup$
    – John K
    Commented Jul 31, 2019 at 17:20

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