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Sailor finds bizarre cure for carrier noise

Dec. 6, 2012 - 12:16PM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 6, 2012 - 12:16PM  |  
Aviation Electronics Technician 3rd Class (AW) Nick Hair spent an hour in the world's quietest room to escape the noise of jet engines he heard during an eight-month deployment.
Aviation Electronics Technician 3rd Class (AW) Nick Hair spent an hour in the world's quietest room to escape the noise of jet engines he heard during an eight-month deployment. (Chiara Sottile / NBC News)
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One sailor traded the din of jet engines aboard a flight deck for silence so great, he could hear his own organs moving.

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One sailor traded the din of jet engines aboard a flight deck for silence so great, he could hear his own organs moving.

After an eight-month deployment on the carrier Abraham Lincoln, Aviation Electronics Technician 3rd Class (AW) Nick Hair spent an hour this summer in the "world's quietest room" as a way to unwind.

The room at Orfield Labs in Minneapolis is primarily used for product testing. Companies bring products — from motorcycle engines to dishwashers — to the room to measure sound, said Steven Orfield, who founded the lab in 1971 and built the room in 1995.

The chamber is 12 feet long, 10 feet wide and 8 feet tall, measuring from the tips of 3-foot wedges made of fiberglass that stick out around the room. The floor is wire. The room is surrounded with 4-inch-thick steel walls and rests on a bed of springs inside a larger steel room to reduce outside vibration. This entire structure sits inside a building that has 12-inch-thick concrete walls.

When in the room, a person might hear his own heartbeat or his joints creaking as he moves.

"I could definitely hear my heartbeat a lot, and I got a lot of sound out of my throat whenever I'd swallow or breathe," Hair said. "I could hear my organs shift around a little bit. It's kind of weird, like listening to your own digestion."

Hair, whose quiet-room trip was featured on the Nov. 23 episode of NBC's "Today" show, was surfing the Internet during some downtime on Lincoln when he found an article about the room, certified as the world's quietest by Guinness.

"The article said if you spend 45 minutes in the world's quietest room, it'll make you lose your mind," Hair said. "I thought, ‘They've never spent time on an aircraft carrier.'Ÿ"

Hair, 27, is a member of Tactical Electronics Warfare Squadron 131. While on the Lincoln, he lived right under the arresting wires on the flight deck. While it wasn't as bad as living next to the catapult, he said it would still get very loud.

"After living around so much noise and not having any personal space, no way of escaping … I just wanted to find the greatest extreme opposite I could," he said.

Orfield receives many requests to spend time in the room from people all over the world, most of which he has turned down. But Hair's email stood out to him.

"I could sympathize with someone sitting on an aircraft carrier and having planes taking off overhead," he said.

Over the course of an hour — the longest monitored time anyone has sat in the room — the sailor asked for the lights to be turned off and tried to relax and meditate to move past the stress of the deployment.

Though the room is not intended for therapy, and Hair was a little disoriented by the end, he felt like his problem was solved.

"Before I went in, whenever I thought about being on the flight deck, I could feel it. It was more than just remembering, I could feel the way the exhaust was, all the vibrations, the noise of the day-in, day-out routine," Hair said. "After I got out, when I tried to think of that, it wasn't there. I could remember it, but I couldn't feel it."

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