Posted by: harrisonjones | April 25, 2011

Write or wrong…

Someone asked me yesterday how difficult it was to do the research necessary for a novel. I think that’s why all the experts suggest that you write about what you know. I do think accuracy and credibility are important, even in fiction, and I try to describe the scenes in my books as realistically as possible. Of course, every laptop contains a complete research library and I Google anything I want to know from the comfort of my writing lair.

One of the scenes in Shadow Flight takes place at a small airport in Socorro, New Mexico. I started my research with a low altitude Jeppesen en-route chart to study the airways and restricted airspace in the area. Next I used Google earth to study the area and surrounding landmarks visually. I simulated a virtual visual approach by zooming in. Then I Googled the airport its self and found a nice photo of the little terminal building at midfield. I would like for you to think that I spent days researching this, but it was less than fifteen minutes. 

Even the technique is not original. Certain airports around the world require special qualification before an airline pilot can operate there. Zurich comes to mind because of high terrain and some really unusual engine out procedures for takeoff and the missed approach. By watching a video much like what I described for Socorro, a captain can sign himself off for the qual.  

Other very useful tools are training aids. When an airline pilot checks out on a new aircraft, he or she attends a two week ground school followed by several simulator sessions before taking the rating ride. One of the training aids that is issued is an interactive DVD of the airplane’s flight management system and autopilot interface. When I write a scene involving a flight, I simply insert my DVD and program the flight plan, including fuel load, passenger load, departures, arrivals, cruise altitude and whatever. I can sit back and watch my laptop fly the entire ten hour flight in real time or I can move it forward to any point I choose. It always makes a perfect auto land. The FMS will tell me the estimated time and fuel for any point along the way.  

The truth is that accurate technical information is pretty much a given for any writer who chooses to use it. I can only hope that my imagination weaves it into a story that is entertaining. 

 The fact is that a general audience is more interested in the story than the tech data and I include only enough to make it credible for pilots who read it. Where’s my DVD? I think I’ll fly to Paris today.     

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