Category Archives: Air & Space

I Used to Be Cool

a cool F-15C jet aircraft flying low

My friend, Ivan, shared this video (03:53) of his USAF unit conducting F-15C low-level training in Wales, UK. Then he sighed and said, “I used to be cool.” His comment struck deep because I felt both his messages.

First, what Ivan did was cool. An elite team selected him from a multitude of applicants. They spent a lot of money and risked their lives to train him. Then, they sent him out to fly multi-million dollar, supersonic aircraft worldwide, trusting him to defend honor, hearth, and home. His daily work was the photogenic essence of great stories. Many dream of that mantle, but few ever wear it. read more ...

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Foggles Focus Practice on Good Days for the Bad Days

Focusing on an aerial view of farm land from banked airplane

My view focused on God’s good Earth

On a bouncy Spring morning, cotton-ball clouds topped the mountains edging our valley. The glistening Snake River cut through rich green, and brown fields that tipped and turned below. Mesmerized, I thought it almost too beautiful to waste on work. Better a dreary day, overcast and gray to focus on the business at hand.

I worked my flight student hard. “Climb and maintain 5,000 feet,” I commanded, mimicking Air Traffic Control. “Turn right to [a] heading [of] 340 [degrees]. Report reaching PARMO intersection.” He repeated the instructions and maneuvered the airplane. 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.

=&0=& 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.

=&1=& 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.

=&2=& first wrote how that mission challenged us to think like new creatures (see A Different Kind of Life). This week I’m thinking about some of our default assumptions:

  • Every other place is like “here.”
  • What we see is all there is.
  • We have the all-encompassing view.
  • That this life is all about us.

=&3=& out this Astrum YouTube video (13:43 after skipping the ads) of what the New Horizons probe discovered around Pluto. It confirms the truth that we see only the very tiniest slivers of our universe.

=&4=&, the creator has that all under control and takes our limitations into account when dealing with us.

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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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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.

=&0=& come in two varieties. The first kind occurs because our moon is the solar system’s odd duck.

=&1=& 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.

=&2=& then it’s big compared to Earth. Even though only the fifth largest out of 181 natural satellites (at last count), it spans more than a quarter of our planet’s diameter. All other moons in the solar system (except Pluto’s moon Charon) swarm like bees about their giant planets. The unique Sun-Earth-Moon relationship creates a curious illusion. The Moon’s diameter and distance from the Earth combine to make it appear almost exactly the same size in the sky as the Sun.

=&3=& the Moon comes between us and the Sun, it sometimes casts its shadow on the Earth creating what we call a solar eclipse. The Moon’s shadow blocks our view of the Sun turning day into night. Confused birds stop chirping and head for nests as we glimpse the otherwise invisible upper atmosphere of the Sun.

=&4=& then when the Moon moves outside our orbit, it sometimes passes through the Earth’s shadow creating a lunar eclipse. The bright, full moon darkens, but not completely to black. The Earth’s atmosphere bends sunlight around the globe painting the Moon a deep blood red and revealing the otherwise invisible shadow of the Earth.

=&5=& I mentioned that there are two varieties of eclipses. The Sun-Earth-Moon shadow dance produces the first variety on rare, periodic revolutions according to a complex pattern astronomers predict with great accuracy (see timeanddate.com/eclipse/list.html for more info). For example, part of the pattern says solar eclipses always happen within about 2 weeks of a lunar eclipse. So for the next two years, we see these eclipses coming up:

=&6=&

  • 31 Jan – lunar eclipse
  • 15 Feb – solar eclipse
  • 13 Jul – solar eclipse
  • 27 Jul – lunar eclipse
  • 11 Aug – solar eclipse

=&7=&

  •  5 Jan – solar eclipse
  • 20 Jan – lunar eclipse
  •  2 Jul – solar eclipse
  • 16 Jul – lunar eclipse
  • 26 Dec – solar eclipse

=&8=& second variety of eclipse occurs much more frequently but works the opposite way. The first hides light with temporary darkness. The second hides darkness with permanent light. A popular song by the David Crowder Band describes what it looks like when they sing of our “… afflictions eclipsed by glory …”. And the Manufacturer’s Operating Handbook—The Bible—tells us that “… light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison …“

=&9=& see the first variety of eclipse, we have to go to the right place at the right time. Some people spend large amounts to ensure they’re correctly positioned for the beautiful, but fleeting experience.

=&10=& see the second variety of eclipse, we are always in the right place at the right time. It costs us nothing to ensure we receive the transforming, but permanent experience.

=&11=& gave us the key to winning the shadow dance when he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life”.

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