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Author takes WW1 flying accuracy to new heights

Getting on board a vintage aircraft to experience how an early pilot must have felt in the open air. Photo: ITV News Anglia

You've heard of method acting where an actor completely immerses themselves in the character. But what about method writing?

When author Rebecca Mascull went to the Shuttleworth Collection in Bedfordshire to research her novel about early aviation she got more than she bargained for.

She met pilot Rob Millinship who helped take her writing to new heights.

  • Click to watch a report by ITV News Anglia's Claire McGlasson

It was the first step in a journey that took her back in time Rebecca Mascull from Grimsby began writing The Wild Air - a novel about the early days of aviation.

Her research brought her to Old Warden in Bedfordshire.

Rebecca said: "In an ideal world you would be flying around in Edwardian aeroplanes but the next best thing is to come to the Shuttleworth Collection and see these incredible aeroplanes."

She met Rob Millinship who is one of the few pilots who does fly around in Edwardian aeroplanes.

He was adamant about what she had to do: "I got quite cross with her and said she really shouldn't be writing a book about aviation unless she'd experienced herself."

The Bristol Boxkite at the Shuttleworth Collection is priceless but has taken to the skies in the past. Credit: Shuttleworth Collection.

The first step was climbing into a Bristol Boxkite - the same aircraft her main character Della Dobbs learns to fly in 1913.

Rebecca said she was surprised by the complexity of the plane and how open the pilot was to the elements as there is no cockpit or fuselage to speak of.

The Bristol Boxkite is priceless so teaching Rebecca to fly it was not an option.

Author Rebecca Mascull and pilot Rob Millinship at the controls of a vintage Bristol Boxkite. Credit: ITV News Anglia

But she was sent off in the simulator in a single seat aeroplane where she had to learn to fly, as Della did, on her own

And for the final test - Rob persuaded a very reluctant Rebecca to take flight for real in a Cessna light aircraft.

The experience at the Shuttleworth Collection proved vital in writing the book Credit: ITV News Anglia

"I was pretty much shaking with fear - getting in there. I could hardly look out of the window. I remember thinking I just want it all to be over and be back on the ground. And then I thought to myself, come on girl, this is it, you're up here, you're only go to do this once so look out the window. You were seeing the Earth as if it was a map and I've never thought of that before. And if I hadn't gone up in that light aircraft I would never have known the fear and the joy.

– Rebecca Mascull
Pilot Rob Millinship was determined that Rebecca should experience the flight for herself. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Rebecca's novel takes the main character Della flying into the Great War.

After her experience at the Shuttleworth Collection, in the flight simulator and in the air Rebecca knew she had to re-write sections of her book.

She said: "As soon as I got home I re-wrote all my flying chapters because I knew they were wrong. It was really important to me that everything that happened in the plot could have happened in real life."

And in some respects it did. Thanks to Rob life imitated art.

Writing a book about a woman facing her fears, Rebecca ended up conquering her own.

The Bristol Boxkite from the Shuttleworth Collection in its flying days. Credit: The Shuttleworth Collection