sweepea and meWhen I was writing DEATH OVER EASY, three pilots showed up in a scene, uninvited. Uncle Ned leaned jauntily against the wall, shock of black hair across his forehead, toothpick hanging out of his mouth. Behind him stood his two brothers.I saw hangars. I smelled gas fumes. I heard the growl of engines as multiple small airplanes flew into my book. But I had one problem: I knew nothing about airplanes or flying.So I called up airshow pilot Michael Mancuso and drove over to Brookhaven Airport in Shirley, New York, to meet him. One of my coworkers agreed to fly with him and report back. No way was I stepping into an airplane that was smaller than my bathroom and flipped upside down. But after I saw Michael’s Extra 300L – BAM! It was love at first sight. Michael took me flying over the bay and did a few loops with the smoke on, and two weeks later I started flying lessons.

I earned my private pilot’s certificate on July 16, 2004, flying a Cessna Skyhawk, and then had ten months of aerobatic instruction in a Super Decathlon. I received my tailwheel endorsement and learned basic maneuvers such as aileron and slow rolls, inverted and knife-edge flight, spins, loops, steep turns, and hammerheads.

After that I bought Swee’pea, a 1966 Piper Cherokee 140 with a manual flap lever and crank trim. On cold, clear winter days she practically jumped into the sky. She flew me to Martha’s Vineyard, Block Island, Cape May, all over New England, and up and down the Hudson River at a thousand feet, past the skyscrapers and the Statue of Liberty.

Although Swee’pea is no longer mine, I treasure the memories of many flights at her controls. BFF.

Oh, and by the way, my research paid off. I was able to write those flying scenes. [Article reprinted from the September 2013 issue of First Draft, a publication of the Guppies/Sisters in Crime.]

September 2013 FD-toby speed

Fear of flying, p. 1


Fear of flying, p. 2

Fear of flying, p. 2