In which we’re getting airborne

Okay, not really. But this is as close as I got during the writing of CITY OF JASMINE. The heroine of the novel, Evangeline Starke, is an aviator bent on piloting her airplane, the Jolly Roger, across the seven seas of antiquity. (Full marks if you smelled any hint of Beryl Markham there–and ALL THE POINTS if you know who Maia Carbery was.) Anyway, those pioneering women–among many others–were the inspiration for Evie Starke. One of the first things I had to do was choose her plane. Everyone and their dog seems to have flown a de Havilland Gipsy, especially the Moth. But I wanted something different. And I freely admit to taking my lead from that greatest of WWI aces….Snoopy.

Yep, Snoopy flew a Sopwith, so I started poking around and discovered the Sopwith was a perfect plane for my heroine. Now, our erstwhile beagle hero flew a Camel, at least in his imagination, which wouldn’t serve Evie for one good reason–it was a one-seater. I needed a second seat for Aunt Dove and Arthur Wellesley, so I researched more and found the Sopwith Strutter 1 1/2. It was light and quick, and after WWI, it wasn’t in great demand–the perfect plane to be snapped up by a girl with a dream and not much money.

A little further research uncovered the fact that there were a few Strutter replicas hanging around–most built for the film “Flyboys”. And as luck would have it, one of the planes actually USED in the film was living only about 50 miles from my house at the Military Aviation Museum. Say no more. A field trip was in order, and before the week was out, I was there, petting an actual Sopwith Strutter 1 1/2–at least when the docent wasn’t looking…

The thing that amazed and horrified me was how utterly FLIMSY the plane looked. It was plywood and canvas and precious little else.(Oddly enough, in the early years of aviation, if you crashed, you had fairly good chances of surviving simply because the planes didn’t fly all that fast. But I still didn’t like my chances in this thing that looked like a glorified kite. I will admit to being irredeemably smitten with the Fokker tri-plane parked next to the Strutter. It didn’t look much sturdier, but the scarlet paint, the black Maltese cross, and the wings edged LIKE BAT WINGS were just too cool to ignore. At least the Strutter had a truly beautiful wooden propeller…

Strutter 1 Strutter 2


3 thoughts on “In which we’re getting airborne”

  1. Ali says:

    This was lovely to read. I like the sneak peek at the process — and, obviously, the Snoopy love. hehe

  2. Alleyne Dickens says:

    I love old planes and I get full marks for Beryl Markham! I even have her book… somewhere around here. No luck on Maia Carbery. It’s almost too bad my heroines fly in air ships.

  3. Pat says:

    I just finished City of Jasmine last night. Loved it! Imagine living in a time of no licenses and regulations. Just get your transport of choice-plane or car-and learn how to control it. The learning curve must have been interesting.
    I read a remark Zelda Fitzgerald made to the effect that she had run over a fire plug and de-intestined the car. Practice makes perfect.

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