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Time: Liquid, Eternal, and Vacation

Rome’s emperors spent time, money, and the lives of thousands to ensure their immortality.

Time’s a funny thing. On one hand, it seems so absolute, unalterable, a one-way arrow to which we are all irrevocably tied.

On the other hand, we all perceive it differently. For example, I know time as a pilot—tangible, measurable, available in limited, finite quantities. Here in Rome, the “Eternal City”, I find ample evidence of those who judged it differently. They considered themselves exempt from its constraints. Their best efforts at immortality, however, served only to produce tourist revenue and archeological delight. read more ...

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How to Handle the Weight of Command

Messy traffic in a central asian intersection

Sometimes the simplest jobs get messy.

Our driver weaves the van right to pass the truck but dips back.  The truck slides right, so our driver moves left. Still not clear, he trails again behind the swaying load. Another peek to the right reveals open space. He accelerates into the lane. But a motorcycle pulls up behind, then passes on our right running along the pavement’s edge. At the same time, a bus appears around the bend ahead, filling the opposing lane, bearing down upon us.

The honking motorcycle races forward clearing our finder by an inch, then threads the shrinking gap between bus and truck. Our driver drops back into the shelter behind the truck as the bus speeds through the vacated space. A few minutes later our driver successfully exploits a fresh opportunity but then brakes as a farm tractor meanders onto the highway. The truck instantly looms close behind, blasts an air horn but doesn’t drop back. read more ...

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How the Summer Solstice Reveals the Big Picture

Because the Earth’s axis is tilted, it passes 4 special points every year. Image credit: By Tauʻolunga – Own work, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=927635

I’m on an overseas assignment this month. Yesterday morning, when I walked outside onto the porch, something felt strange. I stepped to the edge and looked up at the overcast sky. A bright area of the clouds bathed my face with heat. Bright heat? How could that be? I faced north. I opened my iPhone’s compass app. Checked. Yep, that was north. But, the Sun never shines from the north. Unless…

I checked the time—10:30 AM. Then the date—June 20th. I knew I was north of the equator, so only one explanation remained. What I observed meant I was standing south of the Tropic of Cancer. Sometime during the next day or two, the Earth, on its way around the Sun, would pass a point called the Summer Solstice. read more ...

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Lagrange Points—Orbits to Nowhere

Milky Way in night sky above a lake shore

Without gravity, everything we see here—water, trees, rocks, and stars—would fly apart

Gravity glues our universe together. Without it, neither we nor any life could exist. The Earth spins at just over 1,000 miles per hour at the equator. Without gravity, anything loose on the surface like water, cars, picnic tables, and people would immediately fly off into space. Without gravity, Earth couldn’t keep an atmosphere. As soon as it drifted free from the surface, the fierce solar wind would blast it away. Without gravity the Sun itself would expand, dissipating in a fine, cold mist of dust and gas.  read more ...

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Reentering the In-between Place

computer map of airliner flight path over canada

When I lifted the window-shade we were just leaving eastern Canada for the icy north Atlantic.

The cabin’s dark. All shades down. I’m up from my middle seat in a B-777 mid-section, pacing the aisle amidst a couple hundred sleepers. Like river rapids, air rushing over our fuselage blankets all other sounds and provides a steady background for the occasional snort, sneeze, or snuffle. I feel alone in the silent crowd. Unnoticed. Unseen.

I move to the open space dividing Economy from Business Class and stand before the sealed exit. Carefully I stoop down, shielding the tiny window with my body. I slide my thumb under the lip of the plastic shade and slowly push up. A half-inch. A full inch. A thin, brilliant wedge of sunshine explodes. Dare I open it more? I must. Cloud tops tantalize, draw me. I look at the slumbering forms to my left. All wear eye masks. No one moves. Emboldened I push again. A two-inch slot reveals the panorama of broken clouds offering small holes to sea and ice-covered mountaintops below. At thirty-five thousand feet, we’re leaving the eastern shores of northern Canada for the icy north Atlantic. read more ...

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How I Learned to Keep My Balance and Fit it All In

Smiling man loading cargo into a single engine airplane

Panchito loading a C-185, leaving just enough room for me to fly it safely.

Preparing for a month-long work trip out of the country inundated me with too many extras, too many surprises. No time left to work on my novel (The Perelandra Paradox), pitch the memoir (Sky Creature), reprint and re-market my previous book (Call For News), and, oh yeah, write this post. I was feeling overloaded and out of balance. Reminded me of flying.

Every manufacturer determines the maxim allowable takeoff weight for every aircraft they produce using four factors:

1. The engine’s power: The engine(s) must produce enough power to move the aircraft fast enough to make the wings work.
2. The wing’s lift: The wings, given airflow, must produce enough lift to raise the aircraft off the ground.
3. The airframe’s strength: The airframe must hold its own weight, plus the fuel, cargo, passengers and crew in their designated places during taxi, take off, climb, maneuvering, descent, and landing.
4. The performance margin: The gross weight of the aircraft must leave enough margin for the airplane to be controllable throughout all of its expected motions in both still and turbulent air. read more ...

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Pluto Reveals Another Life Secret

image of Pluto shot from New Horizons space probe

Imagination inspires us. What could be, grows into vision. Vision draws us, taunts us, challenges us to stretch beyond our ability. We go to super-human extremes to realize dreams based on nothing more solid than an idea, hunch, or wish.

On the other hand, our concepts of real, but unvisited, places often remain vague. They lack solidity, vibrance, and complexity almost as if they don’t exist at all. We try to imagine what we’ve never seen but reality usually surprises us.

Take NASA’s New Horizon space probe for example. Clyde Tombaugh finally found Pluto in 1930 after an exhaustive search. Since then many wondered what the faraway planet might look like, might be made of. In the intervening years, most of us settled with the hazy picture of yet another cratered but otherwise unremarkable rock moving along its lonely path around the solar system. read more ...

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Help Finding Lost Earrings and Hidden Jungle Airstrips

sandstone rocks and knarlled tree

The rocks, crags, scree and bushes of Glen Eyrie delight the eye, but can hide much.

Darn!” my wife exclaimed. “I lost an earring.”

We’d just finished a two-hour hike among the rocks and crags of Glen Eyrie in Colorado Springs, so I didn’t even offer to search. The chances of finding it were non-existent.

Sorry to hear that, honey,” I consoled.

Yeah, they were my favorites…” she sighed.

Favorites? I thought. That raised the stakes. Reminded me of other high stakes, impossible searches.

I flew over the Amazon Jungle. It stretched like a flat, featureless sea to every horizon. Hanging there below the wings, the lone engine droning, I easily imagined it extending forever to the ends of the Earth and maybe even time itself. Hours could pass, yet the view below would always look the same—gently rolling dimpled broccoli. read more ...

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With a Renewed Focus, I’m Back On The Air

Finding new focus is like this Cessna C-185 flying over gray clouds into the sunlight

Two and a half years ago I put this site up to promote my work as an “Aviation & Space Writer.” But, as you can see on this site, focus moves, changes, and grows. During the last few months, I’ve come to realize I’m more of a commentator than a reporter. The facts are important—especially crucial in aviation—but I’m more interested in what higher perspectives mean, what we see and learn from our real and virtual aerial views. So here’s a summary of my current projects: read more ...

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Shadow Dance of the Eclipses – Handling Light (updated)

Early part of 21 August 2017 solar eclipse

Photo of a projection onto a screen through a telescope of the early part of the 21 Aug 2017 eclipse. Two groups of sunspots are visible—a cluster of three near the center, and a cluster of two near the bottom edge.

Eclipses come in two varieties. The first kind occurs because our moon is the solar system’s odd duck.

For example, it travels a special orbit. Like ballroom choreography that looks simple until close inspection, the Moon only appears to orbit the Earth. In fact, it orbits the Sun. The Earth, 80 times heaver than the Moon, moves steadily on its course about the Sun. But the Moon weaves rhythmically either side of the Earth’s orbit, first outside farther from the Sun, then in front of the Earth, then inside closer to the Sun, and then trailing the Earth. The two dancers interlock gravity arms and sway in 29-day rhythm. read more ...

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Seeking a Higher Perspective