A day late for All Hallows’ Eve, but feels good to say it sometimes anyway. Couldn’t help but know it was coming, with all the cringey stuff for sale this time of year.

Then there’s the change of time by an hour; why do they always keep that such a secret? Anyway, this Sunday, November 4, be sure to show up for all appointments an hour late (just kidding), but if you’re someone who chronically arrives late already, make no adjustment at all. Got that? Otherwise you might begin to wonder if you’ve stumbled into a scene from Twilight Zone, or (ultimate horror) the Rapture… Tricky Treat.

Soaring weather will be perfect by the way — for hanging out on the deck and comparing each other’s costumes.

Oh, and one more little detail: the most crucial election of our lifetimes is coming up later this week, so if you care at all about the future of the world, go VOTE!


Last couple of weeks we’ve discussed “actively scanning EVERYWHERE for all kinds of information, with emphasis on the horizon for collision avoidance”. We added a caveat that “certain – or not so certain – pundits” would disagree, and sure enough, it didn’t take long. Some insist that we look, not ahead, but always in the direction of turns to spot traffic, especially in gaggles. Fine. The First Amendment applies to them as well as the rest of us.

Again though, my four decades of daily backseat observation have shown that many who hold their gaze inside of turns (already a universal instinct) allow gravity to drag their eyeballs inevitably down to the ground someplace out the far side… not the near horizon where any imminent collision will surely lurk. I’ve peeked around from behind and watched it countless times.

Typically, pitch is what they lose control of first; either that or coordination ‘cause there’s no yaw string where they’re looking. Each error leads to the other. And when asked what they see down there they usually have no answer, because there is no answer!

Call me crazy, but if safety is the issue, uncontrolled changes of attitude seem every bit as dangerous as anything else one might or might not do in a gaggle. So let’s try a compromise. Always clear every maneuver beforehand, of course, same as you always look everywhere all the time. Then dutifully stare into every ongoing turn because… somebody says so. But for your own sake and mine, yank that skewed sightline UP to your level, where the action is. And apply some peripheral vision. That way you’ll at least be able to recognize when your attitude goes all to heck, and if traffic does suddenly materialize where it wasn’t a moment earlier, you’ll actually see it instead of the unmoving ground below.

How anyone could object to this strains the imagination, but no doubt they will. After all, everybody needs something to do. So just for poops and piddles, lets go all technical.
Your sight angle into a turn is what, 45 degrees? Say 60, one sixth of a circle. Normal circles in a thermal take between twenty and thirty seconds, so round that up too. A sixth of thirty seconds is (double check the math) approximately five.

If scanning for traffic were the sole criteria, my method, which is only guaranteed to improve your thermaling, lags behind the stare-at-the-ground technique by something less than five seconds — a handicap indeed if traffic ever rushes up at you from inside a turn…

Situation like that, I’d level out and skedaddle.

Or think of it this way. Bogies from outside a circle start somewhere beyond sight and grow more visible as they approach, agreed? When an unseen bogie sneaks closer to your circle, sighting straight out the nose will give you those few moments longer to find it… before waiting twenty seconds until your next chance.

Somehow that fact inspires a chill.


Last week we discussed the value of actively scanning EVERYWHERE for all kinds of information, with emphasis on the horizon for collision avoidance. But the horizon by itself is a truly vast place, and ‘everywhere’ is an entire dimension bigger… Meanwhile you can only look so many places at once, right? Now let’s be more specific.

Along with the imperatives of spotting traffic and knowing where you’re headed, no detail is more important at any point in flight than the ATTITUDE of this contraption you’re riding in. Setting attitude where you need it, then adjusting it when necessary, are really the only means of control you have over where you end up.

Without attitude you got nothing. Still, after four decades in the backseat I’ve found that almost no one ever intentionally glances in these four (okay, five) cardinal directions:

straight down — not some oblique angle but directly below, where a stone would fall, for precise position and drift in the wind.
straight up overhead — that cloud closest to you is the one most pertinent to your situation, whether it’s just forming or perhaps starting to dissipate…
in straight flight, 90 degrees out both wingtips — to confirm level, and to catch anything you’ve already missed before it passes behind.
but most of the time, eyes STRAIGHT AHEAD — through the yaw string, exactly where you intend to go.

Looking straight ahead is also the way to be sure of attitude while turning. It seems all of us are wired to gaze blankly into turns as they progress, despite the lack of useful information there. (Concerned about traffic? All turns should be cleared beforehand, so no one’s apt to suddenly materialize there a moment later!) Completing a turn where you intend to and at the right speed depends on holding exact pitch, bank and rate of yaw, which becomes easy when you’re sighting ahead through the yaw string to the horizon.

But what if the turn is continuous, as in a thermal? Even better. Holding your eyes more of the time on the rotating HORIZON will improve your control, quicken your response in dynamic thermals, and help you stay in stronger lift more of the time. I promise. As for traffic, looking directly through the gunsight while circling provides a full 360 degree scan every twenty or thirty seconds — and if that’s not quick enough you should find some safer airspace!

Caveat: this idea of looking straight ahead in turns will stir dissent from certain – or not so certain – pundits who think they know better. Fair is fair. But results are what matter. It’s your choice: agree with nay sayers who haven’t tried it or demonstrate for yourself how well it works. Which sounds like more fun?


This time of year, when many folks are dealing with drizzly days and frost on the pumpkin nights, we enjoy some of the finest weather anywhere.  All this coming week we can expect more perfectly balmy days with light wind prompting thermals up to around mountaintop height.  And clouds?  Mostly along those mountaintops, marking of course the very best lift.