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David Morrell: Rambo pilotDavid Morrell: Rambo pilot

MorrellHow did you get started in aviation?
In 2008, I was writing a novel, The Shimmer, which is about the mysterious Marfa Lights in west Texas. Small planes have been used in an effort to track them. Because I’m a Method-actor kind of novelist, I took pilot training so that I could make the details realistic. I loved the experience so much that I kept at it until I earned my private license.

What were your early challenges?
I have a liberal-arts background. In high school, trigonometry and other forms of mathematics gave me a headache. When it came to flying, though, I quickly realized that I needed to expand my mind. The practical application of mathematics soon fascinated me.

What were the hardest lessons to learn?
No news here. The various types of landings gave me trouble. I flew the pattern so many times that I literally dreamed about it. I seemed to take forever to learn to combine all the elements. Then one day, I surprised myself by flying the plane rather than thinking about flying it.

What's your favorite aviation-related activity?
Non-pilots imagine that flying a plane is about sight-seeing or traveling to somewhere without the hassle of a commercial airport, and all that is true. But for me, the pleasure of flying comes from being able to move in three dimensions. When I fly well, managing all the elements, even if it’s a local practice flight, I’m thrilled.

What was your favorite flight?
My wife and I watched the John Ford/John Wayne film, The Searchers. We were so enchanted by Utah’s Monument Valley that, for my wife’s birthday, I flew her there. It’s about three hours from Santa Fe. Flying over those canyons and spires was breathtaking. 

Do you own an aircraft?
Because I learned on a Cessna 172, I stayed with that model and bought one after I got my license in 2009. I’m about to get my instrument rating and hope eventually to move up to something larger.

Advice for students?
Everyone learns at a different rate. Sometimes I got frustrated because I was stuck in a particular part of my training—the landings, for example. But eventually I learned to visualize what I needed to do, to fly the lesson in my imagination. If I paused or got confused in my mind, I knew that the same thing would happen in the air. The items that made me pause are what my instructors and I discussed on the ground and then emphasized in flight.

Total time?
Five hundred hours. Because flying is a perishable skill, I try to go up once a week. Plus, I can’t imagine a better way to clear junk out of my mind. The purity of flight always makes me shake my head when I’m back on the ground and re-entering ordinary reality.

Any additional comments for students?
I’m in my sixties and earned my pilot’s license only three years ago. Flying always fascinated me because my father, whom I never knew, was a British Navy pilot who was shot down during D-Day operations. But raising a family and pursuing my writing career while also teaching literature at the University of Iowa, I told myself that learning to fly could wait. Now I wish that I’d learned to fly forty years ago. Hope for what we might eventually do needs to be balanced against regret for what we wish we had done. My age shows that it’s never too late to learn to fly. The corollary is that it’s never too soon.

Feel free to share details on upcoming projects—books, screenplays, and the like.
I devote a day each week to flying. The rest of the days, I’ve never been busier as a writer. I have a new novel Murder as a Fine Art (a hair-raising thriller set in 1854 London) due out next year. I also have a two-part Spider-Man comic-book series in the works and perhaps a feature film based on my spy novel, The Brotherhood of the Rose. Meanwhile, I’m working on a book for 2014 and releasing my older titles as e-books. There are a lot of them. This is my fortieth year as an author. I’ve seen many changes in the publishing world, but none as dramatic as now. Although nothing equals the feel and smell of a printed book, many publishers no longer keep older titles in print. In the past, that was cause for alarm. But now e-books offer a way for a novel to be eternal. A few older books persist in both forms, though. I’m proud to say that my debut novel, First Blood (in which Rambo was introduced), has never been out of print since it was released four decades ago in 1972.

Find out more about David Morrell on his website.