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.

How Absolutes Beat Bad Air

Cessna 172 instrument panel enables holding absolute headings and altitudes

Heading north, morning sun streaming in from the right, smooth air at 8,500 feet—what’s not to like?

Last Friday I flew to Sandpoint, Idaho in the panhandle north of Coeur d’Alene. MAF asked me to retrieve two pilots who ferried a Kodiak 100 to the Quest factory for adding a new option. My craft, a more modest Cessna 172, performed well in the smooth, cool morning air. Fitted with a 180 horsepower engine mod, it lifted me and full fuel tanks quickly to 8,500 feet. I had an easy schedule, so I anticipated a great day wandering north.

Fifty minutes out of Nampa, I crossed the Hell’s Canyon west of Monument Peak and He-Devil Mountain. Billed as North America’s deepest, its gorge plummets 7,993 feet down to the Snake river. Most of the area remains inaccessible by road, but I got a prime seat. read more ...

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How Oshkosh Showed Me a Climb Attitude

Christen Eagle biplane taking off

After 17 years flying the Amazon jungle and Andes mountains, I came to my first AirVenture at Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Before first day opening, I flashed my Exhibitor badge at the dutiful guards and walked through the AirVenture gate. Thirty years of professional aviation experience provided no preparation for what I beheld. Without turning my head I saw three times more aircraft than occupied the entire civil registry of the country where I served.

As a pilot and air ops manager, who knew I needed an aviation fix? Like a starving man no longer feeling hunger pangs, I didn’t know what I needed until I immersed myself into the world of cold 2024 aluminum skin, taut cotton wings, red hydraulic fluid, flashing glass panels, spinning propellors, and clouds of 100 octane exhaust fumes—ambrosia and incense. read more ...

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How to Hold It All Together

James Rush Manley views airframe with most of the skin removed

A Cessna 206 fuselage barely stands with most of the skin and stiff forms removed.

My friend Ron decided to build his own airplane—a Vans RV-7A. A few days ago he invited me to help him put a wing together. Seeing it reminded me that we make airplanes out of really flimsy stuff.

The outer skin of your average airliner is only about ⅛” thick. Ron’s bird—lighter, slower, carries only two people—sports a hide just over 1/64” thick. How will that metallic tissue keep him safe three miles above the ground when he flies 200 miles per hour for 900 miles?

Turns out it depends on how we stick it together. We could, for example, scrunch up aluminum foil, adding wad to wad, until we fabricated a substantial, solid mass. It might be robust but would weigh too much to fly and leave no room for motors, fuel, cargo, passengers or even, oh yeah, the pilot. Fortunately, the Germans developed a method a hundred years ago to make the skin a structural member rather than just streamlining. The technique, not widely used until the 1940’s, later acquired a French name: monocoque that literally means “single shell.”   read more ...

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Straight Lines In A Different Geometry

Aviation & Space Writer, James Rush Manley plots a straight line on an aviation map

We pilots like straight lines and often try to impose them upon unruly reality.

I like to fly direct. Takeoff, clear the obstacles, then turn to the heading. Hold that course through climb, cruise, and descent, brooking neither deviation nor detour. Such straight routes let me laugh at mountains, dismiss big waters, ignore deserts and canyons. They confirm my emancipation from two-dimensional earth. They affirm my citizenship in three-dimensional sky. 

The pilot’s unique perspective rewired my brain. It replaced street and highway grids with a mental moving map that reveals the true lay of the land and plots straight lines between departure and destination.  Frustrating on the ground, but priceless in the sky. So for this morning’s flight to the Waorani village of Damointaro, I turned to the direct heading—074 degrees—and climbed to 4,500 feet (local procedures allowed us to ignore the hemisphere rule). read more ...

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Human Nature Meets a Bad Monday

human hands on notebook computer in coffee shop

Sometimes I write best in coffee shops

Stopped at my favorite coffee shop for a bit of think and write time. Good coffee. Tasty pastries. Great service. No mystery why today, like most days, clutches of lovers, friends, colleagues and contacts cluster most tables, fill most chairs. The mood’s up. Most smile. Chatter burbles like a spring brook. Its bubbles froth into pleasant background easy to enjoy, or ignore, as I choose.

But today cheery grates, incongruous in light of what happened. How can they laugh? I want to rage & revenge, cry & hide, or both. The bad news? Just learned someone shot my good friend, Pastor Tim, yesterday afternoon. The good news? He’ll live—a miracle the medical folks say. The bullet stopped at his skull, providing fuel for life-long teasing about his hard head. read more ...

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How Propellers Are a Lot Like Life

Airplane at jungle airstrip

Taking off into late afternoon sun can be brutal

Afternoon sun hung low as I prepared for takeoff. Orange brilliance obscured trees at the end of the airstrip. It also hid cliffs beyond, the ones I had to fly between to climb out of the river canyon.

Checklists done? Yep. Engine still sounding good? Yep. Abort point confirmed? Yep. Departure path reviewed? I pictured where the plane’s wheels would leave the ground, how I’d hold that heading until just past the end of the strip, then the slight right turn that would keep me over the water and away from higher ground. The air was clear. No worries. I’d be able to see the cliffs well before they threatened—if everything worked right and I paid attention. read more ...

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Why I Sharpened My Focus

Cessna 206 prop hub points to sharp focus

You probably noticed the change. This site sports a new masthead, revised page structure, and most importantly, a sharpened focus. I realized, for a freelance writer’s site, I was trying to be all things to all people. Sounds nice. Doesn’t work out so well in real life.

I write because I believe, as all writers do, I have something to say worth reading. To do that, I have to connect with people. But people aren’t created in general, a nameless mass driven by blind instinct. People are created one at a time as individuals, each unique as snowflakes. And that’s where I have to connect. read more ...

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Bare Hands

Yellow crime scene tape

The police tried to secure the crime scene

Three of us arrived at the crime scene right away. The first response team tried to cordon off the area, but didn’t have enough patrolmen. The looky-loos already pressed the perimeter. Yellow tape wouldn’t hold ‘em for long.

“So what’ve you got, Sergeant?” I asked.

“Well, sir, not sure what to make of it.” He looked around both ways, then down. Pushed his hands into pockets, searching for something. Fidgety. Strange. I’d worked with him before. Always direct. Solid. No messing around, but now different. Maybe scared? “Sergeant?” I repeated. read more ...

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A Unique Substance

City lights seen from mountain

Our lights pollute the night sky, denying us a clear look at the ‘Big Picture’

Get away! Escape! Man-made lights—suburbs, cities, car lots, malls, stadiums, soccer fields and freeways— invade the sky, stealing the ‘Big Picture.’

Run to the country side. Climb the mountains. Search out a dark field. Look up at night sky.

Imagine two things: first, your feet firmly fastened to Earth. Second, turn it over so ground is up, sky is down. Now hanging from the planet, stop looking at a flat, speckled mat. Instead, peer into the deep vault of heaven. Dive into the sea of stars, each a local neighbor. read more ...

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All The Way In

Neil Armstrong takes man's first step on the Moon

Neil Armstrong takes man’s first step on the Moon

July, early evening in Southern California. The afternoon temperature climbed to the low 80’s in small town Vista. Later, palm leaves rustled in a light breeze while twilight pink and costal clouds approached. But I, along with almost 500 million other people, ignored weather, time, food, and even an upcoming date. A fuzzy black and white image seized our attention.

On 20 July 1969, Neil Armstrong hopped-stepped down a short ladder fastened to the side of the Lunar Module. He hesitated a moment on a wide, round pad then stepped out to become the first human to walk on the Moon. His crew mate, Buzz Aldrin followed minutes later. They spent almost a day there, rendezvoused with Michael Collins who remained in lunar orbit, then returned to Earth. read more ...

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Air, Space, and Life