Frederick M. Trapnell: The Test Pilot’s Test Pilot

USS Akron releases its N2Y-1 aircraft while in flight. Source:


The heroine in my WIP becomes a test pilot, of sorts, though in her world aeroplanes aren’t quite as developed or widely used as ours were in the 1930s.  Still, I thought this was a fascinating account of a real-life test pilot who lived during the era I draw my inspiration from.  To be able to see his log books and photographs of the kind of test runs he went on…pretty invaluable stuff.  (I get all giddy inside just looking at it.  Takes me to a different time, you know?)

On Doing Research

I’m not really a history buff or especially knowledgeable about aircraft, but I do find it fascinating to read about them every now and then.  Got some books on airships written as early as 1942, and one on planes originally written in 1915!

  • The Story of the Airship – Hugh Allen, 1942 (has pictures!)
  • Military Aircraft in World War 1 – Frederick A. Talbot, 2008; originally published in 1915 as Aeroplanes and Dirigibles of War (kind of boring, actually, but still has a few interesting things in it)
  • The Giant Airships – Douglas Botting, 1981 (it’s got pictures and colored artwork!)

Even with these references, I still like to “modify” things to suit my storyworld, and maybe I’ll get some stuff wrong.  (Someone is bound to point it out if/when I do.)  But I am writing fantasy, for heaven’s sake, not historical fiction (or even alternate history, for that matter).  While I hope to establish some verisimilitude, I do like to play around and so I mostly use this stuff as a guide.

How About You?

Do you ever do research for your novels?  How much, or how little, do you find yourself doing (if you do)?  Is it something you ever get concerned with, or do you pretty much just like to “wing it?”


11 thoughts on “Frederick M. Trapnell: The Test Pilot’s Test Pilot

  1. Thanks for the references. In my current WIP, transportation is a vital part of my world. Airships, steam ironclads, locomotives that don’t need train tracks, and even a super secret submarine…but everything in my book is steam powered.

    So I had to do a ton of research about steam power, engines, flight, and seafaring. But I don’t data dump at all, and in fact I barely use any of the terminology.

    I simply weave in the “realistic” with actual plot, although I might use a term lie “aft” or “starboard” here and there.


    • I find myself doing the same. I feel I should include at least some of the lexicon I learned in my research, if only to establish some credibility for certain characters.


  2. Great references! It’s amazing how much you learn when you’re writing a novel. I can get swept away into endless research if I’m not careful. Wikipedia = information vortex of doom. One blink later and hours have gone by because one thing leads to another and another LOL Very little but a smattering of details actually makes it into the book.


    • Oh, I know! I get caught in the same trap sometimes, or find myself revisiting something over and over, wondering if I’m portraying it realistically.

      It’s times like that I have to just distance myself from my writing for a while and go do something totally unrelated. Often I find my perception of the whole ordeal has shifted by the time I return, and the solution to my problems magically becomes clear. Otherwise, I go ask someone about it, heh.


  3. This is very interesting to me, Tiyana, as I don’t write fantasy or historical fiction or anything like it, but I have always been awestruck by the amount of research that some writers willingly complete just to get a base understanding of the subject they want to write about. And then they start writing.

    I think I read somewhere that you can do all this research,learn all this terminology and fact, and then use about 10% of your knowledge in your work, possibly less. Incredible. I have huge respect for people with this much discipline!

    Of course it would be fun, in it’s own way. I love your thinking that it’s fantasy anyway … any small inconsistencies with reality can be explained that way. It’s a handy trick to have in reserve! Haha.


    • Sometimes it sounds like an excuse, but…when you want to write about something that doesn’t really exist or isn’t quite possible, there is simply no other way!

      Yeah, you have to have a basic understanding of things that are related to it, but you also have to have an imagination. Getting people to suspend their disbelief and momentarily forget what’s real and what’s fact in order to be immersed in your make-believe world…that’s the real challenge.

      10% huh? Sadly, that sounds about right, heh. I admire people that can write accurate, engaging historic fiction, though. That takes a special kind of dedication and drive, and I sure ain’t got it.


  4. Research can be a blessing and a curse. Blessing: you get to learn new subjects and step into new information that you didn’t know before. Curse: depending on the subject, you can be affected by it negatively (e.g. researching a past murderer and the details of his/her murders).

    Always a fine line to walk indeed.


    • You could.

      This is only somewhat related, but I was reading about Mata Hari one day and realized how awful her execution would have been–you know, how they just line up to shoot you and “any last words?” There wasn’t even solid evidence that she was spying for the Germans! It’s really a tragic story, her entire life, yet she’s become such a romanticized figure.

      It’s strange how society turns tragedies into glorified ideals–that scandalous femme fatale that everyone loves to read about, but really, would you want to be her?

      Sometimes, it’s fun to write about tragic characters because they have the potential to become the ones who readers empathize with the most. No one really likes to see even a semi-decent person/character undergo the negativities of life, but this can be used to make a story even stronger when you let the reader in on his/her perspective of things.


    • Hi, Jamel. Thanks for visiting. (For some reason your comment went into “spam,” and I just now saw it. I guess the link to your name had something to do with it; it’s in Greek!)

      Anyway, glad the post helped you out. 🙂


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