Posts Tagged ‘the best laid flight plans’

Today I’m delighted to welcome Leigh Dreyer to Diary of an Eccentric to celebrate the release of her modern Pride and Prejudice variation, The Best Laid Flight Plans. Leigh is here to talk about her inspiration for the novel, and she’s brought an excerpt and a giveaway as well. Please give her a warm welcome!

Hello and special thanks to Anna from Diary of an Eccentric for inviting me to the blog today! I am so excited to get a chance to talk about my debut novel, The Best Laid Flight Plans. The Best Laid Flight Plans is a modern Pride and Prejudice variation that is set in the United States Air Force. I am lucky enough to be the daughter, wife, and daughter-in-law of three amazing Air Force pilots and have lived my entire life around the Air Force, so the setting was familiar territory for me and a joy to spend time with my favorite characters in a place I know and love so well.

The novel was born one day while chatting with my sister-in-law (who coincidentally shares my first name) after a book club about how fun it would be if Darcy was a pilot. Fitzwilliam is obviously not a very modern name, but most pilots have a nickname, so I toyed with “Fitz” being this great pilot nickname. I brainstormed how someone would get such a name and eventually I realized I had a story. She encouraged me to write it and so, a year later, we have the finished product.

One of the things that makes this story so unique is the authenticity of the flying scenes. I had a lot of help from my husband (who I met in pilot training when he was a student pilot like Elizabeth Bennet) and my father (who was an instructor pilot like Darcy) to ensure that the verbiage, wording, and feelings were as authentic as possible. Many of the radio calls, nicknames, numbers, landmarks, and vocabulary are taken directly from real life checklists and operating procedures and all of the flight elements are based on real flights.  Several of the student pilots and instructors sprinkled through the book are based on real people that I know. Lastly Meryton Air Force Base is based on the real life Laughlin Air Force Base where I met my husband—and where the most of the Air Force student pilots graduate every year—and Longbourn City is based on the town nearest Laughlin, Del Rio, Texas, where I went to high school.

Something that was incredibly important for me as an author and JAFF lover was that Elizabeth be a strong woman. Jane Austen was a master of portraying strong, independent women in her time and I wanted to translate that to modern times. Even in the new millennium, flying is still a male dominated field where women must routinely prove their worth in a man’s world. The women I know in the field are amazing not only because they must navigate the difficult curriculum of pilot training, but they must also rise above blatant sexism and work harder and smarter than the men they work with. Elizabeth Bennet has the qualities I strive for in my personal life: intelligence, passion, persistence, and the ability to rise above her mistakes and change her viewpoints. In my story, I wanted to see these qualities as they tackled a challenge that very few officers undertake successfully.

In that vein, the excerpt I’ve pulled to share is from Elizabeth’s first flight in pilot training, called her Dollar Ride.


Excerpt from Chapter Eleven of The Best Laid Flight Plans

Instructors varied like the colors of the rainbow. Some were incredibly strict, asking for perfection. Others were loose and practical, asking that they not wreck but not much beyond. Many preached different techniques and each had their own peculiar quirks as they flew. Captain Dashwood was a fair instructor who was praised by his students for his ability to explain procedures. Typically, the only complaint lodged against him was his propensity to hum during flights.

The briefing went well. As it was Elizabeth’s first flight, Captain Dashwood would be flying the majority of the mission. Other than a few NOTAMS and procedural discussions, the most important thing he imparted was how to pass the stick back and forth. The T-6 was a small propeller plane that had enough power to do acrobatics and was equipped with two seats, one behind the other. The instructor sat in the back while the student took the front seat. The sticks of the aircraft were connected so when the student flew, the instructor could feel what they were doing and vice versa. Captain Dashwood spoke confidently during the brief and ended it quickly.

“Bennet, you look well prepared. It’s your dollar ride. Let’s just go out and have fun.”

“Yes, sir.” Elizabeth sat up a little straighter, her seriousness attempting to dampen her obvious excitement for the flight.

“Bennet, relax. Look. If you take nothing else from me today, here’s what I want you to remember. When I shake the stick, I want you to take control, okay? I’ll shake the stick and say, ‘You have the aircraft’ over the comms. In response, I want you to shake the stick and say, ‘I have the aircraft.’ That way I know you understand. Just have fun. Have a blast. There are so many people who would kill to fly one of these and you are one of the lucky ones. Enjoy it.”

Elizabeth smiled widely and took a deep breath. He was right, of course. She was the envy of half of her ROTC group when she received her pilot slot. She had worked her whole life to fly and this would be it. Her stomach churned in a ball of anxiety and excitement as she briefly pictured diving in and out of clouds, the sun shining through the cockpit. She released her breath and suddenly, she was calm. Ready. She looked at the grinning Captain Dashwood, motioned to the door, and said, “Let’s get out of here.”

The two gathered up their things and headed to the equipment room where they both picked up their helmets, G-suits, and a coat for the November chill. Stopping briefly at the step desk, they received the go-no-go procedures and the tail and row number of the plane they would be flying. Much more swiftly than Elizabeth expected, the duo stepped out to the brilliant, morning sunshine and the white, concrete runways.

They boarded the bus to take themselves and the other pilot pairs to their planes and chatted briefly about the perfect weather and the day’s flying conditions. Elizabeth glanced around her as they passed silver-grey T-38s, shiny white T-1s, and finally to the blue and white row of T-6s. She had not flown since finishing Fundamentals in Colorado, but the feeling remained the same: nothing is more thrilling than the sight of a plane shooting through the sky, except for the sight of a plane that one is about to fly. The most beautiful plane in the world right now was this small, propeller plane with a black painted tail number of MT-9805.

Elizabeth began her walk around looking for damage, maintenance issues, and safety concerns, following the checklists provided her during training. Captain Dashwood spoke to the maintenance crew chief and examined and signed various maintenance forms.

“All right, Bennet? Ready to get this show on the road?”

“Yes, sir!” Elizabeth responded, overjoyed at the first step to her life’s goal.

“Ladies first,” Dashwood said as he motioned to the ladder up to the cockpit. Elizabeth climbed quickly and began nesting in her seat, placing her bag and other items where she liked them, and began her flow: checking instruments, settings, dials, and switches while checking her work against her printed air force checklists. Captain Dashwood checked her work and her harness straps and then climbed into his own seat.

Before she knew it, Dashwood was starting the engines. She could feel the deep rumble beneath her as the propeller in front began its dizzying spin. The air marshaller in front of her pointed at the plane and spun his hand near his head, fingers pointed to the sky, and the flight operations check began. The flaps were moved up and down, spoilers checked, and the speed break examined. Soon, she could hear Captain Dashwood’s baritone over the radio:

“All right, Bennet. Take us out.”

“Uh… Okay.”

“Bennet, that radio is a push to talk, not a push to think! You are holding everyone up.”

Elizabeth glanced to the planes around her and saw other pilots chuckling at her mistake. Embarrassed, she tried again.

Radio static.

“Yes, sir.”

“Try again!”

“I said, ‘Yes, sir.’” Elizabeth thought through her next words before pushing the button to speak to the Tower. “Tower, this is Dollar-05,  row B, Tail MT-9805. Requesting taxi to inside runway.”

A static, scratchy voice responded, “Dollar-05, this is Tower. You are approved for taxi to inside runway.”

Dashwood signaled to maintenance to pull the chocks from the front and back of each wheel. Elizabeth, her helmet feeling heavy and awkward on her head, watched as everyone did their jobs. This was all a dance. Each move choreographed to perfection with every dancer making up a small part of the whole, only visible if one looked at the bigger picture on the stage. It would be easy to say that, as a pilot, she was the most important, the most vital part of flying a plane, but it would be patently untrue. Each maintenance worker, each marshaller, air traffic controller, and even every factory worker that built the plane was a backstage worker who made this flight possible.

Chocks removed, the plane pushed forward toward the runway like the smoothest car ride she had ever experienced. On the taxi way, Captain Dashwood led the instrument checks until the Tower broke through on the radio. “Dollar-05, hold short.”

The plane’s progress stopped, and Elizabeth took this last opportunity to calm her stomach and nerves. She took a deep breath and straightened, her hands sweating with nervousness inside her green flight gloves despite the cool air.

The tower burst through her musings: “Dollar-05, line up and wait.”

The plane crawled into line at the end of the runway. Time seemed to stop and then accelerate as the tower said, “Dollar-05, cleared for takeoff.” The plane sped up, throwing her back into the seat and pressing her as they rolled faster and faster. The world blurred by in blots of green and black and blue, and then, they were slicing through the air as they climbed.

Captain Dashwood began speaking on the radio, explaining procedures and demonstrating the nuances of the aircraft, but Elizabeth was unable to focus. Instead, she exhilarated in flight. She watched as the thin, wispy clouds came closer, then covered them like a blanket, before they burst through and into the blue of the sky. She squinted as the sun burned through the cockpit and felt her stomach sink and rise with minor turbulence.

When they arrived at their Military Operating Area, the imaginary box she was to stay in while practicing her maneuvers, Elizabeth was given her first go on the stick. She hit the stick and travelled a full three hundred and sixty degrees, pressed hard against the seat as she gritted her teeth and strained at the pressure of the Gs. Though she had only had the stick for her pressured circle, Captain Dashwood put the plane through its paces, demonstrating all sorts of acrobatics and showing them both a good time. They looped and rolled, sped up and stalled. Elizabeth was in heaven, even if she was a bit queasy.

Elizabeth had been flying in a small Cessna available for lessons at the local airport since she started working and was able to pay for private lessons. She had been to IFS before pilot training and was used to the feel of a stick in her hand and watching her instruments. But this was different. Elizabeth felt as if she had never truly flown before this moment. Giddy, she could feel the pressure of the plane from her eyelids to her smallest toe as it dipped and dived. The clouds slipped in and out of sight and the sound of the propeller hummed in her ears and chest. She had been on roller coasters, but nothing compared to climbing softly up and shooting straight down, hurtling toward Earth and then climbing again in safety. Grinning, she took a thousand mental pictures to recall for years to come.

Dashwood continued circling, scooping, and twirling around until Elizabeth was finally downright sick.

“Bennet, getting sick?”

The stick shook in response, Elizabeth not trusting herself to open her mouth without vomiting.

“You have the controls, just keep your mind off being sick, okay?”

The stick rocked, and she took control, keeping the plane level and matching the nose to the horizon. She searched her mind for something else to think about other than the nearest airsick bag when a tall, dark, and overconfident man presented himself to her mind’s eye. Why was she thinking about Darcy at a time like this?

“Bennet, you all better? You about ready to head home?”

“Not at all,” she answered sarcastically, still trying to rid herself of thoughts about Darcy’s dark, piercing stare.

“It is pretty great, huh? The only time Meryton ever looks pretty in my opinion.”

The tower burst through the radio waves. “All flights, we have a weather recall. Clouds moving into airfield. Return to base immediately.”

“Well, that was good timing. Let’s get out of here. We can do some cloud surfing on the way since they’re moving in.”

“Cloud surfing?”

“Haven’t you ever seen a movie where the hero flies through the skies and they touch the clouds as they slip past them?”

“Yeah, but those are just movies.”

“Oh, Bennet. Just you wait.”

The plane streaked through the sky on their way back to the base. Large marshmallow clouds began moving in and around the plane. Large columns of cloud shot up into the sky. The plane banked and rolled through the pillars causing waves of white to surge around them. Elizabeth could not stop her burst of laughter as the plane continued its ballet through the blue.

When there was a ceiling of white above them and a floor of white below them, Dashwood got back on the radio.

“All right, Bennet, I want to show you something. Just down and to your left directly below the clouds is a red farmhouse. It is an important sight to remember because it is typically when we begin our initial for our approach back to base.”

They dipped below and banked thirty degrees so that Elizabeth could see it well.

“Got it.” Elizabeth spotted the red tin roof surrounded by a barn and outbuildings. The clouds rose up again and she sat back enjoying the ride.

“Bennet, I want you to do something for me really quickly. Just point up if you can hear me.”

Elizabeth pointed directly above her head at the canopy.

“Now, look down at your instrumentation.”

Elizabeth did as instructed and was shocked. She had pointed to what she felt was up, but they were still in the thirty-degree bank, doing circles above the farmhouse that was now invisible below the clouds.

“I’m glad these clouds moved in; I can make an important point. You have vertigo, when your ears and your eyes are telling you two different things. Especially when flying in clouds or where you can’t see the horizon, like at night, it’s important to check what you’re feeling with what your instruments are saying. They call what just happened the ‘death spiral’ if it happens too long and you don’t check yourself. You just keep turning, losing altitude slowly until there is nothing you can do, no amount of pulling up on the stick or pushing up on the throttles will help.”

Elizabeth nodded in response and said, “Noted. Consider this one lesson learned.”

The plane circled about and with the turn, Elizabeth refocused herself to the tasks at hand. She fought the whole world as it seemed to scream to her that she was turning, despite heading straight and level at the horizon. Despite her concentration, Darcy strolled arrogantly back into her thoughts during her vertigo. She maintained her concentration as best as she could under his dark level gaze until the wheels touched down and she found herself posing for pictures, helmet in hand, on the ladder of the plane as she stepped out of the cockpit.

Elizabeth was heady with the thrill of flying, briefly distracted by Captain Darcy who had strolled in. She walked past the step desk, oblivious to most everything else in her post flight bliss.


About The Best Laid Flight Plans

In this modern Pride and Prejudice variation, Captain William “Fitz” Darcy has just received a new assignment as an instructor pilot at Meryton Air Force Base. Soon he meets the intrepid 2nd Lieutenant Elizabeth Bennet, a new student at the base that he cannot keep out of his head. Elizabeth, on the other hand, finds Captain Darcy to be arrogant and prideful and attempts to avoid him at every turn. Despite Darcy’s insulting manners, Elizabeth soars her way through pilot training, but can she soar her way into love as well?


About the Author

Leigh Dreyer is a huge fan of Jane Austen variations and the JAFF community. She is blessed to have multi-generational military connections through herself and her husband, who she met in pilot training. She often describes her formative years in this way, “You know the Great Balls of Fire scene in Top Gun (“Goose you big stud!!!”), where Goose and Meg Ryan have their kid on the piano? I was that kid.” Leigh lives with her pilot husband, a plane-obsessed son and a daughter who is almost walking.

Connect with Leigh on Facebook | Goodreads | Website



Leigh is generously offering a giveaway of an ebook copy of The Best Laid Flight Plans and Darcy and Elizabeth squadron patches as part of the blog tour. You must use this Rafflecopter link to enter. Good luck!

Thank you, Leigh, for being my guest today, and congratulations on your new book. I loved reading the story behind it, and I’m even more eager to read it now!

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