Spotting God in Action

He leaves us neither alone, nor defenseless. Instead, he gives us light to shine in the darkest places. Using stories from aviation, space, and life I write about God working through ordinary people like us.
Hope it encourages you to look up, not down; forward, not back.

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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My Rocket Scientist Mentor Leaves Earth

Sunset viewed from the air

My friend, Jerry, soared to the Home Office, but not before learning to fly here on Earth

Jerry the Friend

My friend, Jerry the rocket scientist, passed away Tuesday morning. Saw him just a couple weeks before. He was fine. Old, as happens to all of us, but fine. Then suddenly gone.

Regina & I first connected with Jerry & Donna as fellow members of a fledgling church in northern California. They became both mom & dad and counselors to us, their lovely daughters as younger sisters. Jerry and I bonded over electronics, astronomy, and space travel. And I quickly learned he liked anything that flew. I gave him flight instruction through his solo flight. read more ...

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How I Passed a Long Overdue Instrument Proficiency Check

Two pilots in 1940s cockpit

1940s pilots navigated by listening to A-N Beacon signals

When I first got my instrument rating I reveled, awash in a sea of modern technology. Waving needles, flashing lights, and pulsing sounds enabled me to fly anywhere, anytime. Once I spoke the language and mastered the steps, it became a precision junkie’s dream. Maintaining proficiency was a joy.

In contrast, my father’s stories of 1940s flying in the clouds held almost horrid fascination. Clunky, hard to read instruments scattered haphazardly around the panel dared the pilot to keep wings level and nose on the horizon. To navigate he clamped hard plastic headphones to his ears. Then straining to discern man-made signals amidst nature’s static crashes, he steered the airplane along an A-N Beam until he found a course that merged scratchy dot-dash “As” with dash-dot “Ns” with into a constant tone. Once attained, he held that course—for hours. read more ...

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An Airplane Like My Favorite Jeans

Cessna 206 panel in flight

A Cessna Turbo 206  in flight at 6,600′ over the Amazon Jungle

A few days ago I flew a Cessna Turbo 206G for the first time in 5,262 days. I’d flown many other types of aircraft since then—bigger and smaller, faster and slower—but not the 206.

I looked forward to the flight, but also felt just a twinge of nervousness that came from the pilot culture’s encoded schizophrenia—confident doubting. I knew I could find the ground before the airplane did but secretly wondered if I’d remember the procedures and numbers.

The FAA requires that each airplane has a copy of its own POH (Pilot’s Operating Handbook) aboard. I reviewed it the night before—power settings, weight and balance, systems, and procedures. And speeds. Speeds like Best Angle (Vx) without flaps, Best Angle (Vx20) with 20° of flaps, Best Rate (Vy) and Best Glide (Vg) are important to know before actually flying. read more ...

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Coming to the Wild Point of View

Amateur astronomers standby telescopes waiting for dark

Observers set up equipment in the last light of day, then wait for dark

Cool desert evening. Clear sky. Sun crossed the horizon a few minutes ago as my friend, Bob, and I head towards the Snake River south of Boise, Idaho. The Owyhee mountains stretch across the horizon before us. Around us flat rolling grassland slowly descends to the river, but just a mile short we arrive at Dedication Point—a ubiquitous dessert historical site complete with parking area, restroom, intense quiet, unobstructed view in every direction, and, most importantly, the promise of dark sky. read more ...

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Air, Space, and Life