From Skies to Stars: Pluto, Planet or What?

By Ed Downs

(NASA, ESA, H. Weaver (JHU/APL), A. Stern (SwRI), and the HST)Let’s talk uncertainty.  Viewing the planets of our solar system (one has to make that clear, as there are millions of other solar systems in our galaxy) can be great fun.  So far, this amateur astronomer has been successful in viewing eight of our nine planets … or is that the correct way of describing the challenge of spotting Pluto? 

I grew up absolutely knowing that our solar system had nine planets, with the furthest planet, Pluto, having been identified just 11 years before my birth.  With an orbit lasting some 248 years, Pluto has long periods of viewing opportunity, but finding and recognizing this “small planet” is a challenge.  Even the Hubble Telescope sees Pluto as a circular, bright object, with little detail.  A small telescope such as my 12-inch reflector sees Pluto more like a star than a planet, with recognition based upon observing comparative movement against the background.  So far, no luck!

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Contrails: First Flight

By Steve Weaver


First Flight 

Once when I was little and played on the hill,

One wondrous evening, I dream of it still–

Mom called me to dinner, impatient, I knew–

So I lifted my arms up and flapped them and flew.


I lifted my arms up and flapped them, and lo!

I was flying as fast as my short legs could go.

The hill swirled beneath me, all foggy and green;

I lit by the yard fence, and no one had seen.


I told them at dinner, I said, “I can fly.”

They laughed, not believing. I started to cry

And ran from the table, and sobbed, “It is true–

You need not believe me; I flapped and I flew.”


I told them next morning, I told them again–

For years I kept telling; they laughed and I ran–

No one would believe me; I ceased then to tell;

But still I remember, remember it well–


One soft summer evening up there on the knoll,

Before life had harried the reach of my soul,

I stood there in twilight, in childlight, and dew–

And I lifted my arms up and flapped them and flew!


This was written by Southern author and poet Louise McNeil, West Virginia’s Poet Laureate for many years. It was written late in her life and while she was never a pilot or even so far as I know a passenger in a small airplane, she speaks eloquently of the yearning that lives in the breast of all humans, to defy gravity and soar above the earth.

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College Time Flights and Buzzes

By Charlie Briggs

To the glee of me and the distress of my fraternity members at Sigma Nu, Kansas state chapter, plus the use of my father’s Luscombe, this really happened. Dad leased “long stem grass” pastures in the Manhattan, Kans. Area, and was there on business, and to see me. Seizing on the opportunity to “get in a little air time,” he agreed to let me take a sightseeing flight of the area.

The year was 1949! I had a fresh new private pilots license and the experience of less than 100 hours of solo time.  It is reported that 100 hours is the most dangerous time of a pilot’s career.

Looking back, I believe it. There is little that scares you and much to entice you to “slip the surly bonds” of common sense and do darned fool things. This was one of those things.

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Former Marine Military Working Dog Finds New Life in the Air Force

By Air Force Master Sgt. April Lapetoda

380th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

(This feature is part of theThrough Airmen’s Eyes series on These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)

Senior Airman Samantha Baker gives her partner, Penny, a hug after successfully completing a training session. Baker is a military working dog handler deployed to the 380th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo/Master Sgt. April Lapetoda)The passion and love between military working dogs and handlers is part of the job, but not always evident. However, for Senior Airman Samantha Baker and her partner for the past four months, military working dog Penny, the two are often seen walking around the base together.

Sometimes Baker carries Penny up makeshift stairs so that her paws don’t get stuck, and instead of working strict patrol and obedience training, the two are often in the training area engaging in a game of catch with lots of hugs, love and praise.

Not only does Baker’s and Penny’s relationship look different from the average military working dog and its handler – it is different in several ways. One of the main factors for the difference in their relationship is that Penny is a fox red Labrador.

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Transit to Manas, Part II

By Sagar Pathak

F-16s, such as these two from the 93rd FS “Makos” always flying in pairs to watch out for each other in combat. (Sagar Pathak)After 18 hours aboard a KC-135 to reach Transit Center at Manas in Kyrgyzstan, I had my feet on the ground for exactly 38 hours before I would be back in the air once again. But this time it was different. This time, I would be on a combat mission over Afghanistan supporting Operation Enduring Freedom by refueling U.S. and Coalition fighter jets that were covering troops on the ground. In a span of 48 hours, I would fly two combat sorties with the 22nd Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron in a KC-135 refueling tanker. During those two missions, we would refuel 16 aircraft during our 17.6 hours aloft, offload 78,200 pounds of fuel to thirsty U.S.A.F. and Dutch F-16s, and have travelled 8,600 nm across all of Afghanistan.

Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, and 365 days a year, for the past 12 years, refueling tankers from C-7s from McChord AFB fly troops in and out of Afghanistan on daily missions. All troops entering or exiting the AOR process through the Transit Center at Manas. (Sagar Pathak)Transit Center at Manas have flown over Afghanistan to ensure U.S.A.F. and Coalition aircraft receive the fuel necessary to successfully complete their missions. Last year alone, the 22 EARS offloaded 20-million gallons of fuel to more than 12,000 combat aircraft. This allowed them to support 904 Troops-in-Contact events.

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