NerdGuy Fridays: Dispatches from a Writer's Brain - M. L. Buchman

NerdGuy #38: Osprey (Cover #1)

Miranda Chase #13, Osprey, arrives Sept 26th.

There are two great Nerd-outs in a single cover! Here’s the first.

action adventure technothriller buchman


One look at the cover and you can see that the Osprey is a very strange bird. Is it a helicopter? Or an airplane? Both yet neither. It takes off and lands like a helicopter (mostly, we’ll get into why) and it flies like a plane (again mostly). Actually, it’s a whole new breed of air vehicle—a tiltrotor.

The Challenge

Helicopters are great because they can land anywhere that’s open. They can also hover in tricky spots and raise and lower things like: air conditioning units, radio towers, evacuees, timber, troops, boats… The list is pretty endless.

Helicopters are a pain in the butt because they: have limited range, and can’t go very fast.

Range: Not many helicopters can travel over five hundred miles without refueling. The rare few that can reach over a thousand miles do so by dumping payload in favor of fuel. Jet fuel is lighter than water (or whiskey for that matter) but still clocks in at 6.8 pounds/gallon (0.8 kilos/liter for those of you with the decency to think in metric—everyone in the world except US civilians). Five hundred gallons knocks a lot out of payload limits.

Go Fast: The fastest helicopter in the world prior to the Osprey was the MH-47 Chinook at a heart-stopping 196 mph. And it can carry 12.5 tons of fuel and payload while doing it. That sounds great until you look at your average turboprop supply plane like the little C-2 Greyhound that doubles that at 394 mph while carrying 5 tons over fifteen hundred miles. Or the air force’s big cargo jets in the 550 mph range and can deliver Abrams battle tanks halfway around the world. Never mind the jet fighters going Mach 2 or more (they have different priorities).

Eating Your Bacon Too (mostly)

Along comes the Osprey. It takes off and lands vertically (VTOL) but flies like a plane at a respectable 350 mph while carrying ten tons of cargo a thousand miles. Vertical lift, big capacity, and some hustle…a win-win, right? (Mostly.)

Let’s bypass the testing phase. This is a drastically new technology, which means that in the beginning it failed a lot and killed a lot of people. And because of its capacity to carry a lot of troops, sometimes it did it in large groups.

Take Off: There are some real issues here, especially early on. Look back at that picture of the MV-22 Osprey on the cover. To shift from helicopter to airplane, the whole engine swivels at the end of the wing. When the rotor is pointed straight up, the engine exhaust is pointed straight down. That’s a turboshaft engine, meaning a jet engine with a shaft in the middle to turn things like large rotor blades. That means hot engine exhaust on a massive scale.

This caused some problems. Grass fires if they wanted to land in a field (but that’s okay because helicopters never need to do that. Massive brownout clouds from the twin rotors when landing in dusty areas. It also melted runways (even at airshows), before they figured out to do rolling take off and landings. However, they also melted the decks of aircraft carriers and LHDs (landing helicopter dock ships—basically aircraft carriers for helicopters). A rumor has it that one of the big delays of the CVN-78 USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier was that the brand-new boat design didn’t account for the heat of a landing Osprey and they had to replace the entire deck.

This problem has been partly addressed through training and partly through new software that does things like slowly tick the engines back and forth when idling on the ground to avoid overheating a single spot, instead spreading the heat out over a wider area.

But How?

MV-22 in flight over Hurlburt Field, FL (USMC)
You can see why they can’t land in airplane mode.

So the engines and rotors rotate at the end of the wings as they transition between flight modes.

There are a few catches, as you might imagine. Aside from the heat and brownout thing (also addressed with new flight control software that let’s pilots slide into a high hover and then simply notch their way down a few feet at a time until they touch the ground), there are issues with emergency landings.

The bottom line, don’t! A single engine can drive both rotors in an emergency through a connecting driveshaft. But if one rotor or that driveshaft itself are damaged, you have to depend on the wings for airlift to land it like an airplane. And those wings, by design, are very small. If a rotor itself is damaged, the aircraft is going down—hard.

There is good news here though.

Safety: Those who follow the news and saw the tragic accident involving an Osprey this week (  and followed all of those early accidents as I did, you might be surprised to learn that during the conflicts in Iran and Afghanistan, they had exceptional safety records.

The Control

Osprey MV-22 Cockpit (©Dash 24)

Look closely at this photo. There is a normally looking cyclic (joystick) that rises up between the pilot’s knees.

But for the pilot’s left hand there isn’t a helicopter’s collective (which looks like a car’s pull-up-style parking brake on steroids) or the throttle of a fixed-wing aircraft. Instead, there’s that big control on a slider. This was a huge innovation and I’d love to know how much debate came into developing it.

There are controls on the head for various functions to meet the HOTAS criteria (Hands On Throttle and Stick). But note that it’s mounted on a long slider. Basically, push forward, go fast. Pull back, go slow.

But the real fun, that you can just barely see, is clearer below.

Imagine this under your left hand. Four fingers wrap around the top to the hidden controls marked by the white lettering. A few more controls for quick access with your thumb.

But that bright spot, down in the slot where your thumb could rest so easily is a bright spot. It’s a thumb wheel. Roll it forward/down, and the big engines and their rotors tilt forward. Roll it back/up, welcome to helicopter mode.



And how did that end up in the book?

“No need to melt your runway…” Dave nodded to Josh’s left hand, “roll the thumbwheel forward to initiate proprotor transition.”

That was a real problem with the design of the Osprey—one of many things he didn’t like about the bird. He wondered for the tenth time if that’s why he’d drawn this assignment, his well-known distrust of the aircraft. Had someone chosen him to make sure this evaluation failed? Focusing on being impartial didn’t help. Something else would have to get him through this, which he had a month to find.

The tiltrotor concept aimed the proprotors aloft like side-by-side helo rotors, one at the end of each wing. Then, once aloft, they tilted them forward so that the Osprey flew like an airplane—one with ludicrously large propellors. When still on the ground they were far too big to start facing forward. But they could be partly tilted, enough to gain some forward momentum, without battering the blades against the ground like the world’s most expensive trench-digger.

The Bell Boeing design didn’t hinge the proprotor itself. Instead, they’d mounted the engine at the very end of the wing and rotated the whole engine-proprotor assembly. Therefore, during VTOL—vertical takeoff-and-landing—operations, the rotor and engine were aimed straight up. This aimed the blazing hot engine exhaust straight down. In the early days, it had melted runways, started grass fires during field landings, and even warped the decks of several aircraft carriers before they learned ways to mitigate that.

Initially, they’d had to put down thick steel plates any time an Osprey wanted to land. Now, when down, the engines were programmed to oscillate a few degrees back and forth so as not to melt the metal decks of ships. Over tar, the answer was to ramp up power after you were already in motion. He still didn’t know how they didn’t start grass fires when landing in the rough.

Josh nudged the knurled knob under his left thumb forward for half a second. The machine responded to the tiny motion of his thumb by angling the seven-meter-long engine—topped by the spinning twelve-meter proprotor—forward about five degrees. Another half second, another five degrees, and she began to roll. He could get to like this. A Merlin’s collective gave no such sense of childhood superhero dreams come true.

“I am become a Viking God.”

action adventure technothriller buchmanPre-order Osprey Now!

NerdGuy Fridays: Dispatches from a Writer's Brain - M. L. Buchman

NerdGuy #37: Prigozhin’s plane

I had such a fascinating (and non-political) experience regarding the downing of his plane that I thought I’d share it just for the fun of it.

I was at a very different kind of conference this week. For a future Miranda Chase book (coming this winter), I wanted to get my team over toward Sweden, but not on an investigation. Wondering how to do that, I asked myself, “Huh, do they ever go to conferences?”

It turns out they do: ISASI, the International Society of Air Safety Investigators annual conference.  It was in Nashville, so I simply had to go. 335 investigators from 45 countries, utterly fascinating. I got to sit with Boeing, Gulfstream, Delta, UK military, Iceland, Australia, NZ, FAA, NTSB, US Navy and Air Force (and an Air Force materials lab guy who I totally geeked out with) and a myriad of others. Holy wow, utterly amazing 4 days.

But back to Prigozhin. By chance, I was the one who caught the breaking news at our table during a break. I spun the screen to show the investigators around my table. Their very first question? “What air frame?” We each tossed out ideas. And after about 3 minutes (ridiculously fast unless it was preplanned, which Russia is now denying) someone found that it was an Embraer Legacy 600. We all nodded like that was about right and we should have guessed that one. (I had offered the very similar Gulfstream and the dissimilar Antonov An-24 turboprop.)

Embraer Legacy 600
Embraer Legacy 600

Then they all turned to me. “You’re the guy who follows headlines with your geopolitical series, why do you think it took Putin so long to knock him out?” LOL!

My answers were:

  1. Putin had to wait to get any Wagner troops who wouldn’t sign with the Russian Army out of the country to avoid another rebellion. Once they were in Belarus, he was safe from that.
  2. Also, Putin had to consolidate power at home. I felt it was clear how shaky his grasp is as he had to fire/disappear 3 major folks from the Russian government/military before he dared to move.

That discussion ended abruptly when the video popped up. They’re crash investigators after all, so the analysis of that ranked as far more interesting. “Dead stick.” “Missing wing.” Spin rate. Verticality of descent rather than arcing flight path. And a ton of other factors I’d never have gleaned from the image. Far more interesting to them than any mere politics. LOL!

So, yeah, a very interesting place to be on hearing the news.

Typical of a 4-day immersion conference, I’m heading home with reams of notes and a very full brain. [grin] The key to my success there? The depth of my research. I could ask those next level questions. When they talked about reading the black box from this crash or that, I didn’t have to ask “What crash?” or “What kind of plane is that?” But having studied it, I was easily accepted. And being at that technical conference hopefully will give my future adventures with Miranda even more depth!

Buchman action adventure thriller romance writer's recipes

“Raider” Double Crust Apple Pie

Recipe (printable PDF)
Miranda Chase #5


Miranda handed him a tray with a large portion of steaming lasagna, prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, a crusty sourdough bread roll, and a side of fresh apple pie with ice cream, before sitting beside him.

“Which reminds me.” Miranda began cutting up a small skirt steak. She turned to Holly, “Why wouldn’t I be safe around Andi?”

Holly barely balked, “Just something Mike said. Ask him.” Then she picked up a roasted Brussels sprout with her fingers and ate it.

Andi’s eye roll clued him in that it had been her and Holly’s conversation, not his, that Miranda had caught some part of.

He kicked Holly’s shin under the table.

Jeremy squeaked in surprise.

To cover that it was his kick that had gone astray, Mike flipped over the card he’d drawn.

Ace of Spades.

Of course.

Active Time: / Cook Time: / Total time: 10-15 minutes

Pie Dough (you can buy a shell)

  • 2 c. plain flour
  • 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 6 Tbsp. butter (diced and cold)
  • ~1/2 c. ice water


  • 6-8 large Granny Smith apples, sliced thin (pile them up in a pie plate until they make a mound about as high above the pie plate as it is below)
  • Mix in a bowl and let stand for 1/2 hour with:
    • 1/4 c. sugar
    • 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
    • 2 Tbsp. cornstarch
    • 1 tsp. cinnamon
    • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg

The Pie Dough (the key is keep everything cold)

  1. Combine dry ingredients (sift into bowl or drop into a food processor and whirl it a few times).
  2. Add butter and pinch into flour until the texture of coarse sand (or buzz 10 1-second pulses in the food processor).
  3. Add ice-cold water and mix well (or buzz in food processor as you dribble in water). Run until it just comes together. Finish quickly by hand.
  4. Divide in two, flatten into 4” discs. Wrap in cling wrap or wax paper. Return to fridge for an hour (freeze the other half).
  5. Place your rolling pin the fridge as well.

Prepping the Pie

  1. Preheat over to 400° F.
  2. Roll out 1/2 of the dough into a circle until 2-3” larger than your pie plate. (leave the other half in the fridge and work quickly)
    1. Flip occasionally, and brush a bit of flour on the counter.
    2. Lift by rolling it loosely onto your rolling pin.
    3. It will start out to be hard to do, but it will soften all too quickly, so work fast. We don’t want the little butter lenses to melt, as they make the crust lighter.
  3. Use the rolling pin to lay it gently over the pie plate. Do NOT stretch to make it fit (the dough will remember and contract as it bakes). Instead, lift the outer edges and slide toward the middle to fill the pie plate, run up the sides under no tension, and floop over the edges.
  4. Trim off any excess that hangs more than 1/2” off the edge of the pie plate. (This can be used to patch a hole if one happened.)
  5. Put it in the fridge.
  6. Roll out the other 1/2 of the dough as per above.
  7. Retrieve the pie plate, fill with the apple-and-spice mix, nudging to around to make as compact a mound as reasonable. (Don’t press hard as you’ll ding the lower crust.)
  8. Lay the upper crust gently over the mounded apples.
  9. Again trim off any of the excess over 1/2”.
  10. Tuck the 1/2” of the two crusts under the edge of the lower crust so that it rests on the rim of the pie plate. Using a fork, or two fingers from one side pinched by one finger from the other, press the edge into the pie plate.
  11. If you have a pie ring (a protective metal hoop to keep crust edges from burning) put it on. (If not, a few thin strips of aluminum foil may be gently folded over the edges and lapped about 1/2” down into the pie crust.)
  12. Critical: Slice in several 1”-long air vents to release the steam. Feel free to make pretty patterns.
  13. You can also decorate with leftover bits of dough you trimmed off earlier.
  14. If you’re feeling fancy, whisk and egg and brush it over the surface before baking to add to the golden glow.

Baking the Pie

  1. If the oven isn’t up to temperature when you’re ready, put the pie back in the fridge, even if you think it will just be a minute.
  2. Bake for 15 minutes at 400° F.
  3. Lower temperature to 350° F and back for 45 minutes.
  4. Apply to fully cool before serving. Vanilla ice cream would go well here.

A lovely apple pie for my birthday.
(Matt-Matt is my household nickname.)

What’s not to love!
Recipe (printable PDF)

Buchman action adventure thriller romance writer's recipes

“Ghostrider” Fast Fajitas

Recipe (printable PDF)
an action-adventure technothriller Buchman
Miranda Chase #4


Unable to sleep, Miranda sat up in bed and fired up her laptop.

The discussion at dinner had circled around a variety of topics. But one had kept coming back. Once during the fried chicken taquitos appetizer, twice during the main course—two bean enchiladas for her, a monstrous plate of shrimp-and-steak fajitas for Holly, and carne asada burritos for the boys—and yet again over flan and deep-fried ice cream.

Their workspace.

Her personal airplane hangar at the south end of Tacoma Narrows Airport wasn’t really up to the task of high-security military plane-crash investigations any more than their Western Pacific Region offices at the NTSB.

After two hours of lying awake and organizing her thoughts, she’d decided it was time to make some changes.

NOTE: Living for thirty-eight years in the US Pacific Northwest, I ate a lot of utterly amazing Mexican food. My absolute #1 favorite over the years? Fajitas! That big sizzling platter of beef and onions that I can hear coming my way from across the restaurant, with a whole array of colorful sides including: bright salsa and neon guacamole, dusky black beans and brilliantly white sour cream…ah, heaven. So while burritos and other dishes get much more of a mention in Ghostrider, I thought I’d share my homemade fajitas recipe. It’s far simpler (and far easier) than the restaurant version, but still incredibly satisfying in its clean simplicity.

Serves 3-4. Leftovers reheat well.

Prep and Cook time: <20 minutes

The Ingredients

  • 2 boneless chicken breasts, cut into thin strips across the grain cut the short way not the long way. (Tip: To make this easier, freeze the chicken for ten minutes, or sharpen your knife.)
    • You can substitute beef from a lean cut, shrimp, tofu (firm)…
  • 1 large onion, cut in half and then wide moons parallel to the core, rather than slicing end-to-end through the core
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2” wide strips, then in half if too long
  • 1 green bell pepper, the same
  • 1 good squirt hot sauce (such as Sriracha, adds more flavor and depth than heat)
  • 1 T. chili powder, divided
  • 1 tsp. cumin powder, divided
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes or 1/4 tsp. cayenne powder (optional)

Cook and Serve Ingredients

  • 1 T. canola oil, divided
  • 2 flour tortillas per person (we typically use the 8”-ish ones, flavored tortillas spinach and so on are nice too)

Cooking (use a large frying pan)

  1. Heat pan on high with 1/2 Tbsp. canola oil 2-3 minutes.
  2. In a small bowl, toss chicken with 1/2 Tbsp. chili powder and 1/2 tsp. cumin powder (and the red pepper and/or hot sauce if used).
  3. Cook chicken (leave on pan 3-4 minutes without moving before flipping).
  4. Set chicken aside in a medium bowl when done (it will cut easily in two with a cooking spatula or spoon and shows no pink in the center).
  5. Add other 1/2 Tbsp. canola oil to pan.
  6. Add vegetables to pan and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 Tbsp. chili powder and 1/2 tsp. cumin.
  7. Cook vegetables 3-4 minutes per side until soft and browning.
  8. Nuke 2 tortillas per person between damp paper towels (20 seconds / pair, 30 seconds for 4, don’t do more than 4 at a time).
  9. Return chicken and any juices to the pan with the vegetables and reheat briefly.
  10. Pour it all into the medium bowl to serve.

Fried up just right

Two fajitas ready to roll and a cold beer? I’m good to go.

Recipe (printable PDF)

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