How Well Does It Fly?


You’ve probably heard of the maxim “Write what you know.”  Good advice, but that also means if you’re going to write about something outside your field of knowledge, you need to do the research first.

During the draft of my next book to come out, I began research to vivify a scene in mind of a character coping with a compromised helicopter in midflight.  I didn’t yet know what would go wrong and how it could be fixed (while still in flight, mind you), so I began perusing the internet for topics on helicopter crashes, or malfunctions or what happens when shot at.

Yes, I’ve accepted I’m bound to be on some Watch lists out there….

Learning about the physics of helicopter flight was intimidating enough, but one website I ran across mentioned how the chopper mechanics would read thriller novels by authors whose names you’d recognize.  They would find errors concerning the whirlybirds, and laugh with each other how the writer got certain details wrong.

Now I’m really intimidated.

Some true-life stories of close calls provided concrete ideas, but I still had to comprehend the logistics of the collective control.  See the picture below?  The collective is all the gizmos that help operate the blades.


Hours of research distilled to two and a half pages on my computer screen.  Still feeling intimidated about the details, I made use of six degrees of separation to contact a helicopter pilot.  Both he and the other pilot who worked with him agreed to read the scene and inform me whether or not it rang true to somebody more enlightened.

Apparently it was a slow news day.  Not only did they return their feedback in a matter of hours, they climbed around on their own helicopter (but not while in flight) after discussing the scene with each other.  They fiddled with the collective and contemplated if my character’s actions would, well, umm … fly.

Their first response was that it would take pert-near superhuman strength to pull off (or rather put together) what my character did, but still liked the scene and found it exciting.  I shared the true-life account that provided the most inspiration, and they responded with “That was an eye opener!  I guess if your choice is get the job done or die, you’ll do whatever it takes!”

Writing is usually not so dramatic, but I can relate to that statement:  If the choice is to do the research or write something … flat (like it fell from an airplane), you’ll do whatever research it takes.

My helicopter scene might still make those chopper mechanics laugh, but at least I’m in good company….

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