Clive Cussler Doesn’t Know Much about Helicopters

Apparently, even best-selling authors can’t be bothered to do their homework.

Atlantis Found CoverIn my never-ending quest for light reading while I sit around in Wickenburg waiting for my marriage to be terminated, I picked up a copy of Atlantis Found by Clive Cussler from the library. This book features Cussler’s protagonist, Dirk Pitt, a man so outrageously skilled and lucky that he makes James Bond look as inept as Inspector Clouseau.

Hey, I did say I wanted light reading, didn’t I? (And yes, I do realize I was bitching about a supposed Cussler book just the other day.)

But no matter how light reading is, it really bugs me when an author gets something insanely wrong. Take, for example, this passage from the book:

Purchased by Destiny Enterprises from the Messerschmitt-Bolkow Corporation, the Bo 105LS-7 helicopter was designed and built for the Federal German Army primarily for ground support and paramilitary use. The aircraft chasing the Skycar carried a crew of two, and mounted twin engines that gave it a maximum speed of two hundred and eighty miles an hour. For firepower, it relied on a ventral-mounted, swiveling twenty millimeter cannon.

My helicopter pilot brain shouted “How fast?

You see, there’s a little thing called retreating blade stall which normally limits the airspeed of a helicopter. I don’t know of any helicopter capable of going 280 miles per hour. Certainly not one with a single main rotor system.

But hell, I’m not an expert. I’m just a pilot. What do I know?

Bo 105P
German Army BO 105P photo by Joey Quan.

So I looked it up the MBB Bo 105 on Wikipedia. And I scrolled down to the Specifications Section. And I learned the following specs:

  • Never exceed speed: 270 km/h (145 knots, 167 mph)
  • Maximum speed: 242 km/h (131 knots, 150 mph)
  • Cruise speed: 204 km/h (110 knots, 127 mph)

280 miles per hour? How about 150 miles per hour? That’s more reasonable.

And, coincidentally, it’s the never exceed speed for my Robinson R44 Raven II — although, admittedly, I don’t have any ventral-mounted, swiveling twenty millimeter cannons.

Come on, guys! Do your homework! I know it’s fiction, but when you discuss the capabilities of an aircraft that actually exists, how about getting it right?

2 thoughts on “Clive Cussler Doesn’t Know Much about Helicopters

  1. The Sikorsky X2 is the only helicopter I can think of that could come close to that speed. It has a propreller that helps push the aircraft in addition to the co-axial rotor system. From Wikipedia:

    Maximum speed: 260 knots (299 mph, 481 km/h)
    Cruise speed: 250 knots (287.5 mph, 460 km/h)


  2. It’s quite common for authors to look up data and forget to write down the right terms (kilometers vs miles). Sometimes they fudge the numbers assuming the reader won’t look up the correct data, because they need the better performance to spice up the story. Jules Verne did the same thing in his story about shooting a capsule to the moon. He had the escape velocity correct, (great for scientific information 100 years before we put a satellite into orbit) but fudged on the G forces from the cannon launched capsule so that the people inside would survive. The correct G loading would have flattened the occupants like pancakes, but that would have spoiled the story. I like to download H. G. Wells and Jules Verne stories as they are public domain. I love the humor derived from fudging the correct data and story endings due to being written just before the science is perfected like in H. G. Wells story of the War of the Worlds where we learned the secret of how to control an airplane to keep it from always crashing from the Martians (who did die from our diseases – since we already had this knowledge from infecting the American indians. ;^)

What do you think?