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I once read about a nice word that describes the specific noise made by a helicopter in flight.

  • It wasn't a generic verb like "rattling" or "juddering", but one that only applies to helicopters.
  • It may have been onomatopoeic, but I'm not sure.
  • I'm almost sure it was a verb (as in "the [...]ing noise of the helicopter"), but it could have been a noun (as in "we could hear the helicopter's [...] from a mile off").

I've hunted on the internet to try to find this word again, but to no avail. I'm sure I'll know it when I see it though. Does anyone else know this word?

  • wopping or whopping? – Dan Bron Apr 16 '16 at 14:28
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    Whirling? Whapping? – Skooba Apr 16 '16 at 14:29
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    thrumming? "The thrum of helicopters" is reasonably formal, and is not as misleading as "whirring" (as @HotLicks suggests), as they sound like nothing else which is said to whir. – Dan Sheppard Apr 16 '16 at 19:05
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    My ROFLcopter goes soi soi soi. – Peter Cordes Apr 17 '16 at 4:27
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    @LaurentDuval I've upvoted a few of the answers, but none of them is specific enough to be the word I was thinking of, so I can't really mark any of them 'correct'. – Rand al'Thor Aug 28 '16 at 12:04

10 Answers 10

15

It appears that the different noises produced by helicopers can be pretty complex, and I could not foresee the OP would raise my interest on this topic.

It is sometimes called with the broad and somewhat loose terms "chop chop", choppy or chopping sound, see for instance:

While the "chop" root is loose, I like its similarity with the cut ("to chop"), and "chop chop", rooted in Cantonese, adopted by English seamen meaning "hurry, hurry".

More technical terms exist for their different noises, depending on the of enngine, the manoeuvre, the number of blades, the flight "mode". A more technical SE discussion at The sound of rotating helicopter blades.

[EDIT] Indeed, the "Helicopter sound is rather complex", as mentioned in Frequency Analysis of Helicopter Sound in the AS332 Super Puma, or in Helicopter blade slap, J. of Sound and Vibration, 1966 (a more accurate technical term proposed by @Sven Yargs) which says that:

Blade slap is the sharp increase in helicopter rotor noise, at the blade passing frequency, that is characteristic of certain model helicopters during some régimes of flight.

and

This can be defined as the loud, sharp increase in rotor noise, at the blade passing frequency, that is so characteristic of particular model helicopters during certain manoeuvres.

noting that:

Many times, blade slap noise has been mistaken for machine gun fire and vice versa.

Finally, one can find many other onomatopoeic sounds here, for instance:

  • swish/swash/swish/swash
  • tocotocotoco
  • wuppa wuppa
  • whop whop whop
  • whumpa-whumpa-whumpa-whumpa
  • whup-whup-whup
  • thith-thith-thith
  • dubdubdubdubdubdub -flac-flac-flac chakk-chackk-chak-chak,batabatabata
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    Yup, and this is why they're called choppers, no doubt. – Drew Apr 16 '16 at 22:25
  • @Drew Perhaps the chopper came from the blade effect too – Laurent Duval Apr 17 '16 at 0:05
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    I can only imagine a TV programme for small children referring to the 'chop chop' of a helicopter. It sounds like baby talk. Likewise 'choppy sound'. The onomatopoeic sounds listed, while very imaginative, are almost entirely novel concoctions (i.e. all but 'swish swash'). 'Chopping sound' and 'pulsing noise' constitute adult language, but neither are anything but very general descriptors, and they therefore do not describe the specific noise made by a helicopter in flight other than in a very general, non-specific sense. – The Advocate Oct 20 '16 at 9:20
6

I'd suggest, thumping sound

The thump of a helicopter drew nearer.

Rebel Heart

The thump-thump-thump of the helicopter got louder and louder until they could feel it vibrating through them.

Rivertime

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    I've heard "thumpa-thumpa" (er, the term, not the sound -- well, I've heard the sound, too). – T.J. Crowder Apr 17 '16 at 8:28
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Glancing through the results in Google Books for "deafened by the" + "of the helicopter", it seems the most common term is roar, roaring. I doubt there's anything more specific in common use 1.

It's probably an overestimate, but Google Books thinks it has an estimated 8280 hits for...

roar of the helicopter


1 I don't think it's specific to helicopters, but chuntering + helicopter gets 12,100 Google hits.

4

One onomatopoeic word for the sound of whirling helicopter rotors is "chuf" or "chuff" (often repeated in sets of two or three syllables). Here are some examples from a Google Books search. From Aviation Week, volume 60 (1954) [combined snippets:

Sikorsky, of course, is the recognized "father" of the helicopter industry in the United States — an industry that has grown from his original VS-300 (first flown in September, 1939) to a field of 17 manufacturers turning out everything from tiny single-place ships to giant tandem-rotor craft accommodating 40 troops.

...

Then, on May 6, 1941, Sikorsky took the VS-300 aloft and stayed airborne for one hour, 32 minutes and 30 seconds, a new world record.

Since then the chuf-chuf-chuf of the rotary wing has become familiar in Korea, in air mail and express schedules, in utility uses such as power line inspection and mapping flights and in passenger operations as well.

From Aircraft, volume 20, (1958) [snippet view]:

The little "chuff-chuff" Fairey Ultra Light Helicopter, now in Royal Navy colours, was flown on and off its transporter truck while being driven along the runway to simulate a ship's platform.

From The Aeronautical Journal, volume 78 (1974) [snippet view]:

It is noticed that there is a significant content of low frequency discrete frequency sound in the helicopter recording which is absent in the road traffic noise (Fig. 2). These low frequency discrete frequency components are heard as the chuff-chuff of the helicopter. If these tones do not decrease in amplitude with increase in frequency then the helicopter will make the banging sound which is often called blade slap.

From Ivan Smith, Come Break a Spear (1980) [combined snippets]:

The clattering chuff-chuff of heli-borne troops filled the air. Black against the bright, silver sky the machines rose up and over the hill and dipped swiftly towards the valley.

From Hob Brown, Inner Tube: A Novel (1985):

Chuff-chuff-chuff: the soundtrack for embassy evacuations. A bulbous black helicopter passes over our heads, carrying, with equal probability, soldiers or hunters or survey geologists.

From Reader's Digest Treasury of Humorous Writing (1988) [snippet view]:

Down on the first floor, the lieutenant paused in his supervising of the handing out of riot guns to listen to the unmistakable chuff-chuff of a nearby helicopter. "My God!" he whispered. "They must be supplied by Fidel Castro!"

From Larry Kammholz, Moc Hoa (mŏck Wauh): A Vietnam Medical-Military Adventure (1990) [combined snippets]:

Then there was the sudden excitement of the sound of the half-dozen choppers accelerating their engines and rotors, churning up the dust. The whine of the engines and the chuf, chuf of the whirling blades then increased in pitch and intensity and rapidly heightened to a final whizzing takeoff.

From Rob Loughran, High Steaks (2003):

But his voice floundered in the chuff-chuff, chuff-chuff of a US Navy helicopter that bulleted down the valley about forty feet off the ground.

From James Doss, Stone Butterfly(2007):

The chuff-chuff of an approaching helicopter awakens the feline dreamer.

From T.M. Bilderback, Mama Told Me Not To Come - A Justice Security Novel (2010):

The first helicopter was almost even with the barn now, moving fast over them. Felix heard a muffled chuff, chuff, chuff from it.

From Matthew Ewald, Human Nature (2015):

The sounds from outside intensified, he cocked his head as he heard a soft whisper, the chuff chuff whirring of a helicopter, a news helicopter, he...no, they had been here to make a statement.

  • That's interesting, I would never call the sound of a helicopter a "chuff." Clearly at least some people do. – T.J. Crowder Apr 17 '16 at 8:30
  • +1 Now I know which word to use if I write about a helicopter. – Alan Carmack Apr 18 '16 at 21:35
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    Perhaps unliterery helicopters make a different sound. – Alan Carmack Apr 18 '16 at 21:38
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Helicopters are said to whir. The whirring helicopters. Due to their blades. Any machine with blades is said to whir.

Merriam Webster:

Examples of whir in a sentence

Origin of whir Middle English (Scots) quirren, probably of Scandinavian origin; akin to Dan hvirre to whirl, whir

First Known Use: 15th century Related to whir

noun

Simple Definition of whir : the sound made by something that is spinning very fast

Full Definition of whir : a continuous fluttering or vibratory sound made by something in rapid motion

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    An electric fan whirs. An RC car might whir. A helicopter does not whir. (It might be heard as a whirring sound if it was still a mile away. But no, even then, the "thup-thup-thup" of an approaching helicopter would not be well-described as a whir.) – Kundor Apr 16 '16 at 18:02
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    Yes, it does. The wings whir, and that is why it is called a whirlybird, fyi. Collins Dictionary: a prolonged soft swish or buzz, as of a motor working or wings flapping ⇒ The silence was broken by the whirring of a helicopter. // Sorry, but you are mistaken, it's even in the damn dictionary. – Lambie Apr 16 '16 at 21:28
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    @Lambie: "whir' and 'whirl' are two different words, with different meanings. whir = "a low, continuous, regular sound", whirl = "a rapid movement around and around" (per Google). – jamesqf Apr 17 '16 at 5:35
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    This is the correct answer, Honestly, this site needs more native speakers chiming in. Chop chop is absurd. – Iain Holder Apr 17 '16 at 5:55
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    I'm a native (BrE) speaker and (a) I've never heard of helicopters "whirring", whatever the dictionary says; (b) whirring is a continuous noise. Helicopters don't make a continuous whirring noise: youtube.com/results?search_query=helicopter+noise. They make a thumping noise. – Roger Lipscombe Apr 17 '16 at 8:16
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Helicoptor Noise

  1. blade slap CED

    • (Aeronautics) the regular noise beat generated by the rotor blades of a helicopter
    • the regular noise beat generated by the rotor blades of a helicopter (Collins Dictionary)

This is a demonstration of my new sound-effect-gauge for FSX-Helicopters. It simulates the blade slap in several flight conditions YouTube video link

Rotorcraft Aeromechanics

Impulsive noise or blade slap is a sharp cracking, popping, or slapping sound occurring at the blade passage frequency....

More references...

There are numerous characteristics of helicopter sound that cause it to be objectionable to many within earshot. To begin with, noises with a beat or pulsating qualities tend to be more annoying. The main-rotor and anti-torque systems in turbine helicopters tend to dominate the acoustical signature.

The distinctive aerodynamic rotor blade slap noise generated by helicopter rotors is difficult to disguise. Blade slap (technically “Blade Vortex Interaction,” or simply BVI) noise occurs during descent for landing and results from interaction of a main-rotor blade with previously shed tip vortices. These interactions generate a complex unsteady pressure field that propagates below the rotor as high impulsive noise. High-Speed Impulsive (HSI) noise is caused by transonic flow shock formation on the advancing main-rotor blade, primarily near the blade’s tip. This noise tends to propagate forward of the helicopter.

Aviation week.com

From SE Physics

In some cases (turns at high speed, descent) the blades may also be hitting the wake vortex shed by the previous blade resulting in sharp increase in the puslating sound called "blade slapping".

From Straight Dope The Helicopter Noise

What you are talking about though is the noise you hear primarily in low speed descent (when the helicopter is coming in to land). This is when the helicopter makes its distinctive "whop whop" noise. This results from the tip vortices produced by preceding blades passing through the disk plane and interacting with later blades. The term "blade slap" is archaic and it is now referred to as BVI, or Vlade-Vortex Interaction.

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I come up with heli noise and just find some evidences as follows:

A loud heli noise filled the air. The B.S.A.A. heli appeared behind the ruins and shoot to the B.O.W.. Rika looked up and ran to Piers. Source

Seems fair to me since he's AFK and its irritating having a really loud heli noise above you when you're in spawn waiting for an MHQ to deploy. Source

0

Different helicopter types make different noises. The twin-bladed Huey of the Vietnam era was a whop - whop sound. The twin rotor Chinook (Vietnam and later, still in service today) is more of a wokka - wokka. That's what its crews call it. Earlier helicopters were sometimes described as 'clattering'. Modern ones can make a 'thrumming' sound when far away, becoming more of 'beating' sound close to. I've often seen the word 'low' added in front of all the above -the low beating of the helicopter...

  • Thrumming appeals to me. I suppose helicopters are noisier than that, though. – aparente001 Jan 19 '17 at 7:43
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My son's British childminder, when we were living in France, called the sound a helicopter makes:

F f f f

I suppose the vowel sound connecting the consonants is more or less a schwa. It's not like saying the letter F. The F sound is definitely the beginning of a distinct syllable. I'm not sure how to notate it properly.

I'm not sure if she learned it in the UK or in France.

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Loading noise (Helicopter noise reduction)

Loading noise is an aerodynamic adverse effect due to the acceleration of the force distribution on the air around the rotor blade due to the blade passing through it, and is directed primarily below the rotor. In general, loading noise can include numerous types of blade loading: some special sources of loading noise are identified separately.

Changes in blade-section motion relative to the observer as the steadily loaded propeller rotates, generally referred to as "loading" noise. This source tends to dominate at low blade speed.[citation needed] –Wiki

If you hear it "chopping" it's predominantly loading noise.

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