So, what I said about how much I liked Nick of Time? The sequel, Time Pirate has officially pissed me off only 18% of the way though the book (reading on Kindle, I don’t have page numbers).

Nick, who is twelve, has just asked his father, Angus, to teach him to fly. Angus was an ace in WWI, with 23 kills before he was shot down and lost a leg. Angus answers, “Well, as luck would have it, I’d just turned twelve when my father taught me to fly in a Sopwith Cub. So I can hardly refuse, can I?”

Er, no. Doesn’t work.

It’s not the idea of teaching a twelve-year-old that bothers me; other evidence in the books says Nick is taller than I am (I could barely reach the controls in a Supercub, so I regard my 5’2″ as about the lower height limit for a pilot – though you could be slightly shorter and fly a Cessna. Nick’s smart, and besides they are on one of the Channel Islands in 1940 and Nazi invasion is imminent.

The problems are: as far as I can determine there was no Sopwith Cub. The Sopwith Camel was preceded by the Pup. But even if I assume he “Cub” is just a typo, the timing doesn’t work. Sopwith opened its first factory in 1914. The Pup entered service in 1916. The Wright Brothers only made their first flight in 1903!! It seems unlikely that anyone old enough to be an ace in WWI (ended in 1918, of course) learned to fly at 12, but if he did it certainly wasn’t in a Pup. Even if he flew the very first Sopwith off the line in 1914 at 12, he’s have been 16 at the end of the war – possibly old enough to be a pilot, if you lied about your age, but I don’t think you could have been one long enough to become an ace.

So, no. Ted Bell, check your math.

ETA: Quick research note: If Angus McIver had 23 kills, only 126 pilots in the entire war (both sides) had more – OK, so he’s a bit extraordinary, but that’s not unreasonable. But of the British pilots with 23 kills, the youngest was born in 1899, so he would have been 12 in 1911 – only 8 years after the Wright Brothers first flight. So it’s possible his father taught him to fly that year (though not in a Sopwith plane!) but vanishingly unlikely – as far as I can tell, there were barely any production airplanes in 1911. Further, this guy grew up on one of the Channel Islands and the first cross-Channel flight only happened in 1909.

And all of this took me about 15 minutes of research, and I wasn’t the one writing the book!