Putting My Characters in a Helicopter

The view from the helicopter was incredible
The view from the helicopter was incredible

In writing, it’s always good to have some first-hand experience in that which we’re writing about. Which meant, since I’ve put characters in helicopters before, I couldn’t possibly turn down the chance to take a ride in one. Even thought the idea left me… let’s say… uneasy. 

I’m not afraid to fly. It doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, one time, long long ago, I flew in a bright red, open cockpit biplane. You know, just like the ones Snoopy and the Red Baron flew. It was gorgeous and for some reason didn’t look scary to me at all.

Some guys had started a business on Hilton head selling rides in the pretty little red plane, and I got the joy of getting to write a story for the newspaper about their new business. They offered to take me for a ride.

We did all sorts of stunts, giant loops, barrel rolls, this crazy thing called a hammer stall, where you’d climb straight up into the sky, do something like stall the engine, and then dive straight back to earth. When you get low enough, you pull into a giant loop.

Trust me, it was great.

And the views of the island in the ocean were incredible.

You’d think with an experience like that, the helicopter would be no problem. I’m not sure why, but to me they’ve always looked kind of fragile and small. It seemed like something that would be scary.

But my friends were excited, all of them writers, on a gloriously relaxing trip to Myrtle Beach. I was not going to be the one who would not go in the helicopter.

We got there and found out they couldn’t take all four of us up at once, so we paired up, two and two. The first two went and came back looking absolutely delighted with themselves and their little adventure. They loved it.

Okay, I was going, too.

The helicopter looked really small. It was really small. The nice man helped us inside, and the little four-seater seemed like it had the interior space of a compact car. A really compact car. 

I was strapped in. I had my headphones on, so we could hear each other over the noise of the engine. Find writer tidbit: just found out in some research that combat medics in helicopters don’t use stethoscopes or feel for pulses. It won’t work in a helicopter. Too much vibration to feel a pulse and too much noise from the engine to hear a heartbeat even through the stethoscope. What have gotten that wrong in the new book if I hadn’t gotten lucky and read that in a newspaper article on the web about combat medics.

Anyway, we were ready to take off. Our pilot was this cute, young boy named bastion, whose parents were German, but he was raised in the US, which gave him a really interesting accent. He put us at ease, chatting with us about flying and the sights we were seeing.

But the helicopter just didn’t seem very strong. The engine didn’t seem that strong. The hold it had on staying in the air didn’t seem that strong. The wind currents, I know, were not that strong and yet we were getting blown around. And the thing that really got to me was the shell of the helicopter, the skin. It seemed incredibly thin, like you could put a fist through it if you wanted. Like I could have leaned hard against the door and gone right through it.

You know that feeling when you’re really high off the ground and you step too close to the edge and it feels like so easily you could fall? It felt like that to me.

I wouldn’t say I was really scared, just uneasy. It’s something I’m very happy to be able to say I did once, but I’ve never want to do again.

The view, I have to admit, was incredible. I still don’t want to do it again.

So, it’s done. Then, I think to myself, in the book I’m working on now, I put Amanda in helicopter, but she has a head injury and is really out of it. I’m not sure she even realized she was in a helicopter.

Will is a military guy and I’m sure he’s in helicopters all the time. I thought maybe that meant he’d be fine with helicopters, but then I asked a friend whose former military who’s former military, and found out he didn’t like them either. I guess he just gotten used to them, because he had to.

In fact, he said he thought helicopters are an insult to flying, with none of the grace of an airplane. That description works for me.

I tried to explain the sensation that may be so uneasy to my husband and finally hit on this: you know how it feels in an airplane when you hit turbulence and all of a sudden it feels like there’s nothing beneath the plane to hold it up?

That’s how it felt in the helicopter the whole time.

Write a comment

Comments: 0