How to Get Flying Facts Right in a Story (or Novel)

Today’s guest post is by Rob Akers, a charming, witty writer with a great sense of humour and a wealth of experience.

Be sure to visit his blog, where he shares on a number of topics, ranging from global warming to Tom Hardy.

A Little about Rob

Rob Akers sitting in a garden before a flight. (Used with permission.)
Rob Akers sitting in a garden before a flight. (Used with permission.)

Rob Akers is a veteran of Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Iraq, flying C-130s for the West Virginia Air National Guard.

He holds a Bachelor’s degree from Arkansas State University and a Master’s Degree from the University of Memphis.

He is currently a commercial airline pilot, flying the 757. A father of two children, he has been married for 13 years. He and his family make their home near Huntington, West Virginia.

Rob is writing his first novel. 

Rob’s Guest Post

I would like to take the opportunity to thank the equally wonderful and sweet Nadine for allowing me unfettered access to the airwaves.

The following is a very short story that I have written. I am making it available to you to use, re-print, and claim as your own. I make no further claims to this particular arrangement of words, and you are welcome to them. However, please know that the following words would make me close a book and walk away if I ever read them in print.

Short Story

Jimmy Bond clinched the yoke of the Cesena 171, catching the bright explosion of fire on the surface. The first missile launch caught him by surprise, but the second missile in the air was just standard tactical procedure.  Jimmy pushed the yoke downward, stepped on the right rudder, and activated the timer of the stopwatch. The small airplane rolled onto her back without hesitation. His passenger, Sugar Lips, yelped at the unexpected maneuver.  Jimmy looked back over his left shoulder at the first telephone pole-sized missile that was determined to end the rescue of his attractive passenger.

Wiping the sweat from his brow, the former fighter pilot’s mind quickly calculated the time-to-distance equation. He knew he had just one chance to make the Russian SA-19 missile pass by. Holding the yoke full forward, intentionally aggregating the impending stall of his inverted aircraft, the stall warning sensor activated when the airspeed fell below its preset limit.

“What is that?” Sugar asked.

“It’s just the stall warning, love.” Jimmy smiled, and snuck a peek at Sugar. She held her hands on the roof of the airplane, and her blouse bundled up towards her neck as her breasts jiggled like a Jell-O mold.

“Not to worry, love. This missile won’t kill us.” Jimmy allowed the low-winged, single-engine airplane to spin to the left. Knowing that he needed speed, he pushed the throttle full forward, and the engine fired to life.

The upside down, spinning aircraft confused the killer missile. Its inferred, chemically cooled, seeker head was locked onto the hot engine exhaust port in the tail of the airplane, but it couldn’t compensate for the random spinning of the aircraft. To make matters more difficult for the missile, the airplane was literally falling out of the sky at a rate of 500 feet per minute. The missile was traveling upwards at almost 4,000 miles an hour. The geometry confused the onboard computer, causing the missile to make a bold attempt turn at over 29 times the force of gravity. The G-force quickly became too great for the Integrated Stabilization Gyro. First, the missile wobbled, then tumbled, then came apart in flight, exploding into a fabulously bright fireball.

Jimmy immediately recovered from the spin and looked to the right for the second missile. Fired four seconds after its failed partner, it had time to fully acquire and lock onto the Cesena.  Jimmy found the missile to his right. He put the airplane into a tight 5-G turn. Jimmy felt his face elongate as he pulled harder, until the missile was directly ahead. Rolling out smartly, Jimmy reached down to the magneto switch. Finding it, he switched the button to the “Both” position. Using its back-up magneto, the airplane accelerated like a dart. Jimmy’s intent was to close the distance with the missile quickly.

“Jimmy, it’s getting so big!” Sugar exclaimed, gripping Jimmy’s thigh in terror.

The second missile accelerated towards the sleek airplane. If the killer missile had emotions, it would have smiled when it zeroed into the hot section of the spinning propeller. All it needed was a few seconds, and its kamikaze-style attack would be complete with the explosion of the fifty-pound warhead in the missile’s nosecone.

Jimmy looked at the stopwatch. Five seconds to go. He knew this would be close. His best friend in life, Al, was murdered just last week when the Supreme Leader had discovered that Al had stolen the launch codes for the ultra-deadly SA-19. Before his death, Al had embedded a computer code into the Internal Arming Computer that forced the missile to wait a full ten seconds before the warhead could go active.  If Jimmy and Sugar lived, then Al’s death would not be in vain.  Waiting for the stopwatch to creep towards nine seconds, Jimmy forced himself to be calm.

“Sugar, hold onto your skirt,” Jimmy said.

Sugar absent-mindedly gripped her skirt with both hands, revealing more leg than a lady should. Jimmy caught a glimpse of her pink, lace panties.  Making his dying wish, Jimmy pulled hard on the yoke and rolled the airplane into a left wingover.  Sugar yelped again, and Jimmy wondered if she always made that sound when she was excited.

The missile couldn’t react fast enough to hold its lock and overcome its Mach-7 speed. It missed the right wing by a scant two feet, and continued its course another half-a-second, before it exploded harmlessly behind the Cessna.

Jimmy completed the turn to the West and patted Sugar on the thigh. “Love, did you say that this was your first time in an airplane?”

“Yes. Now tell me more about that mile-high club,” Sugar said, unraveling her skirt.

***

Over the summer, our good friend, Nadine shared a story idea article about a pilot who lost his sight during a flight over the British countryside. This particular pilot was guided to a safe landing by some brave pilots from the Royal Air Force. I made a comment agreeing that there is a story within the truth of the news link, but that a writer has to be careful when writing about aviation. I offered my twenty-six years of experience as a resource to anyone who wants to be sure to get the details correct.  To my surprise, Nadine has taken me up on that offer, so here I am.

In other areas of our lives, I am sure that you know that the first step in solving a problem is to recognize that you really have a problem. As writers, I think that we are all super confident enough to believe that all we need to tell a good yarn is a couple of facts and our writing will carry us through. That may be true for most things, but trust me, it is different when we write about aviation.

There was a time in my life when I had an unlimited amount of time, but I didn’t have very many options on how to fill that time. I chose to read books. I read everything I could get my hands on, all genres, all themes, and all kinds of books. My only standard for choosing a book was that it had to offer me the prospect to take me to a different place; therefore I did not pick war or airplane books. Even when reading a romance book, invariably the author wrote a scene involving an airplane. Amazingly enough, 100% of the published authors got some, or all, of the details about flying wrong. Maybe the authors did their research by watching a Hollywood movie, or maybe they just made something up. I don’t know about their research techniques. What I do know is that they were all perfectly wrong. And that is why I made the offer to Nadine a few months ago. I want to help you get the big details right so that when a pilot reads your work, they are not distracted by the glaring mistakes and they can stay in your story.

To help you decide if you need some advice about aviation, please re-read the fictional story about super spy, Jimmy Bond. It is 793 words long and has 19 intentionally placed errors within the story. Some are very minor that I would readily overlook if I read it in a work of fiction. However, some are very basic and would cause me to close the book and walk away.  If you can easily spot five of them without resorting to Google, then you can probably pass on my help. Otherwise, if you are writing anything that has to do with flying or the military, please contact me. I really am here for you, and I really am doing this for free.

I am not a writing coach. I am not a published author, and I am not asking for anything in return for this offer. I will not tell you if there is a dangling participle in a sentence, mainly because I couldn’t spot one in a line-up with a picture.  But I will promise you this: I will have suggestions about how to make your flying scenes realistic. I will tell you if something is believable, and I will tell you when it doesn’t work for me.

I want to thank Nadine for her trust in allowing me some access to her side of the Internet. I thank you all in advance for reading my third-grade dribble, and I appreciate all the effort you guys go through, day in and day out, to make the writing world a better place.

I wish you all fair winds, smooth skies, and shaky adventures for all your fictional characters.

You can contact Rob at robakers19 [at] gmail [dot] com.

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