This week, I'm doing something I've been meaning to do for some time. I have an opportunity to share some visual details from my series, and in addition introduce readers and writers alike to some overlooked items that tend to slip through the cracks, mainly those little technical doodads that some people always notice, like that scene that starts on the ramp next to a tiny little Citation jet that suddenly has the interior space of a Gulfstream. And just the fact that most of you don't even know what I said tells me you're in the right place.
"So what?" you ask. "Why should I even care about details like that? They don't make a difference as long as the story is good. It's fiction anyway, right?"
And to an extent, you would be right. By all means, go ahead and write in whatever kind of airplane you want you characters to ride in. But those technical details all add up to the difference between bringing readers into your world, and holding them at arms' length.
You could apply the same logic to the scene where the bad guys gun their 400-cubic-inch Yugo and peel off around the corner while the good guy watches helplessly from the driver's seat of his AMC Gremlin. It's about being believable, folks, and being believable means research.
Fortunately, I happen to work in aviation as a trade. I've always been a big fan of airplanes, and my books feature some. I want to cover a few of those with you, just for the sake of putting a face with a name. So, may I introduce you to: (Drum roll, please)
The Challenger 604
Let's go inside, shall we? The bar just above the stripe line releases from the side of the aircraft and when one turns it, the air stair swings down on balanced springs.
At the top of the steps, our flight attendant waits, in impeccable uniform. The pilot and copilot are already in the cockpit, going over their checklists. This is after their pre-flight visual inspection, where they do a detailed walk-around of the entire aircraft, checking tires, control surfaces, wings and stabilizers, antennas and sensor probes.
When we enter the aircraft, we pass the galley.
Okay, so our friendly flight attendant ushers us back to our seats.
This cabin is not your average airliner, is it? The seats are comfortable and soft, and there is plenty of room to lie back if needed. These flying offices stay in the air for a long, long time (the official stat sheet for the 604 cites a range of over 4,600 miles!), so comfort is a premium.
Now, if we're going to be in the air for that long, we probably need some kidney relief. So that little room farther back is the lavatory. Seat, sink. Nothing special. Notice the monitor screen on the left side of the doorway. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, so movies (and yes, video presentations) can be shown on the monitors. There's one on the forward bulkhead (wall) as well, so two different video sources can be playing, with the passengers watching with headphones. But these babies have some killer audio systems as well, so if everyone wants to watch Air Force One, they can make the crew sweat pretty good.
Now, this one is not sub-divided. But some of these aircraft do have separate little micro-offices where Mr Big (or Mz Awesome) can sequester themselves for private conferences. The planes have WiFi, fax machines, and phone systems that allow instant contact all over the world. Like I said, flying offices.
So now, let's look at the "driver's seat."
Now, I will try not to get too technical here. If anyone has any questions, feel free to contact me privately, and I'll do my best to answer you.
There's a lot of information a pilot needs to fly his aircraft safely. In your car, you need to know speed, fuel quantity, coolant temperature, engine rpm, and maybe you have a GPS so you don't get lost. A pilot needs all that information, too, only the highways at 40,000 feet are invisible, laid out by radio navigation systems on the ground. So our pilot has to know where these highways are, so he doesn't put himself and his passengers in danger (this is not to slight the female captains and first officers out there. I use "he" and him" generically here).
So, from left to right, we have Display Units 1 through 6 as follows:
DU1: Pilot's Primary Flight Display (PFD). Which way is up, how high are we, how fast are we going?
DU2: Pilot's Multi-function Display (MFD). Where are we going, what compass heading are we on, where is the highway line?
DU3: Engine Indicating/Crew Alert System #1 (EICAS). Engine readings, system alerts, warnings, etc.
DU4: Engine Indicating/Crew Alert System #2. Whatever doesn't fit on EICAS 1. Also, look at control surface positions, hydraulic systems, electrical systems
DU5: Copilot's MFD
DU6: Copilot's PFD
Notice there are at least two of everything. Sometimes, there are three of a certain sensor or radio,so failures don't mess up anyone's Sunday. In addition, the screens can swap information, or call up information from other sensors.
The row of dials above the dispays is the standby instrumentation, Left to Right: Airspeed (how fast), artificial horizon (which way is up), altimeter (how high are we), and the cabin pressure indicator (how much air pressure between inside and outside)
Here's another look at a fully functional display pair (PFD/MFD)
Notice the blue/brown horizon display. It's really important to know which end is up. Blue means sky. Brown means dirt. Dirt is bad for an airplane that is doing its best to stay away from it. Notice also the blue label in the MFD that says "TERRAIN." It means that screen is set to tell the crew when dirt is getting too close to the airplane. That system (Enhanced Ground Proximity Warning System, or EGPWS) wasn't invented when Reba McIntyre lost her entire band in a wreck in California. Now, it's mandatory equipment in all charter aircraft.
One more thing to look at, down between the pilots:
Don't worry, I'm not going over every switch. I just wanted to cover two items. In the top pic, those two screens are the controls for the Flight Management Computers (FMC). The pilots use this to plan the flight, find the highway lines, and keep them informed on "the Big Picture" of the flight. In addition, the FMC can automatically tune the radios to the next navigation beacon on the route, tune the communication radios to the air traffic centers along the way, and keep the compass systems honest.
The bottom picture shows the Radio Tuning Units (RTU), the display controllers, and some of the other functions that make the flight smooth and safe for everyone.
A performance datasheet for the Challenger 604 can be found here.
So that's this baby in a nutshell. Hope it showed you something new, and helped to introduce one of the "toys" that I feature in my books. Feel free to use it in your own.
See you next week with another random act of writing.