Aircraft Accidents and Writing

“Fiction reveals Truth that Reality obscures.”            Ralph Waldo Emerson

“I’m one of the most dangerous types of aviation professional: an aircraft technician with a word processor.”            Daniel Tenace, The Air Crash Files: Flameout

In 1977, I read a novel that altered the direction of my life; a novel is, by nature, Fiction.  It didn’t win any awards; the author wasn’t famous; yet it opened my eyes to writing and aircraft accident investigation.  Basil Jackson’s, Flameout, was about a fictional airliner that crashes during a routine flight.  The accident’s circumstances were unusual, almost fantastic, yet they were so believable … the operative word being: ‘believable’.

There are many books and reports on aircraft accident investigation, both fiction and non-fiction.  Some are enjoyable and/or instructive, while others border on ludicrous.  It’s not that the author doesn’t try to maintain a level of believability; in my opinion, they just don’t realize when they’ve crossed the line.  Others target persons or organizations; they forget the point of accident investigation is to reveal truth, not assign bias or blame; to avoid intentionally hurting someone out of conjecture, ignorance, spite or convenience.

Along these lines, the true heroes are those who research dangers to safety.  On November 24, 2016, I wrote about four gentlemen: Jon Loffi, Jamey Jacob, and Jared Dunlap, all of Oklahoma State University (OK); and Ryan Wallace of Polk State University (FL); they wrote a research paper: Seeing the Threat: Pilot Visual Detection of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems in Visual Meteorological Conditions.  The paper analyzed the ability to physically see an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) from a slow moving aircraft, under controlled conditions.  This is an unbiased report putting the UAV under the scope, without lobbying, to verify if they are a threat to aviation safety.  Their findings are accurate, irrefutable and chilling; taking a proactive look at UAVs and their effect on aviation.  I look forward to the next paper.

There are many non-fictional works analyzing accidents, e.g. Malaysia MH370 or Air France 447.  I don’t often read them because of their processing of facts; I’m spoiled by facts.  The reason for this is because the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reports rely heavily on facts.  The first NTSB report for any accident is, in fact, called: the Factual report.  A Factual report tells the reader everything factual about: the aircraft, the pilot(s), the technician(s), the airport, the weather conditions, the air carrier, etc.  This information cannot be disputed or alleged – it is factual; it is first-hand from the source; it’s not second-hand.

When a non-fiction writer – not an investigator on site, but an ‘outside-the-accident-investigation’ source – gets into authoring about an accident, they rely heavily on second hand information, aka Hearsay.  In addition to the non-fiction book writer’s inexperience, the quality of the second-hand information determines the quality of the outcome.  The writer’s naiveté on an aircraft’s systems or a pilot’s training is only handicapped further by their prejudices, assertions and the final product’s quality.  The final non-fiction investigatory book’s reliability is questionable.

Think about a 1990’s investigation of the Titanic sinking.  No one living was there in the shipyard as the Titanic was being built or heard the decisions made in the White Star Line’s Board Room.  One hundred years later, we can only assume we have the story right.  Real problems suffered by Titanic’s construction aren’t technologically applicable today … or are they?  But the point is made: unless there is a first-hand knowledge of the topic, there is less chance of portraying the facts accurately.  A reader focuses on accuracy, not someone else’s opinion.

Which is why, I prefer to write fiction.  I don’t hurt anyone; I can apply my experience to the problems I see; and hopefully, people will sit up and listen.

Novels are fun to read; you get a lesson and a story for the price of one.  Even the greatest story-teller ever, Jesus, was into fiction; no, seriously, look it up.  No one thinks that The Good Samaritan was actually Jesus’s crazy Uncle Tonoose or that The Prodigal Son was a kid he knew from school.  They were Parables; stories that taught lessons at a dozen different levels.

My first aviation novel: The Air Crash Files: Jet Blast, gave the reader a seat up front into the machinations of Accident Investigation.  But it also came with a warning and a lesson; a chance for the aviation industry to step back and take stock of where we are going at light speed, perhaps to slow the ‘roller-coaster’ process down before it gets away from us.

My second novel came out on September 18, 2017.  The Air Crash Files: Thermal Runaway, takes the aviation industry into alien territory – its own day-to-day activities.  Introduce an unknown entity into the everyday and, if not respected, it plays like pure Sodium and Water; like mixing humans and dinosaurs in Jurassic Park; the ‘normal’ becomes ‘chaos’.  Something that is not considered when introducing a new product into the industry, is how that product cannot adapt to the everyday ways of the industry.

For example, it is interesting to see how a UAV is being assimilated into the National Aerospace System (NAS).  The UAV began as a hobby, until the military found a defense capability; it exploded onto the NAS in an unrestrained frenzy of amateurs and professionals dragging the UAV into controversies of safety versus utilization; it’s a long fight.

In a far less highlighted position is 3-D printing.  This evolving technology, although not as controversial, still needs to be proven safe, a fact hampered by cries for approval tempered by concerns for safety.

NOTE: I am proud of my novels because they can be read by someone as young as an eight-year old; there’s no profanity; no adult situations in Jet Blast or Thermal Runaway.  What would be the purpose or need?  I strived to create works that my Grandson could read then discuss with me later.  And isn’t that the point of writing: to reach the people best influenced by what they can learn?  Give them something to dream about doing?

Thanks to Basil Jackson, it worked for me.

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