There’s an unwritten statute in soaring: never dump your water ballast on another glider. And for good reason. If you must shed weight in order to climb, dropping even part of that mass onto someone’s wings below you is at best unsportspersonlike. (Anywhere near the ground it could be calamitous!)

This happened to me in the ’94 Standard Class Nationals, and no I was not competing. A student and I were soaring locally to study contestants’ tactics as they flowed through our neighborhood. We were in a 2-33 and the offender was flying a Discus. The surprise shower had no effect on our already dismal performance so I laughed it off as a novelty. After all, we were still climbing quicker…

Then a circle later the Discus passed so close we could see right up our wing into its cockpit — where the pilot’s head was DOWN all the way around… And banking toward us!

Some believe they simply cannot soar without an audio variometer to keep eyes outside where the action is. Okay, but every year they’re lured by more digital distractions, spendy little gadgets that clutter cockpit and mind, and complicate the panel. Each requires more attention and recurrent fingered inputs on increasingly tiny buttons, further insulating the victim from direct contact with non-virtual reality ever evolving OUT THERE.

One might assume that average skill level in national competition is higher than a typical regional, but even the most brilliant pilots need to see where they’re going. You can bet our race cat in the Discus had an audio bleating at him, but if the idea was to liberate his eyes from the panel it wasn’t working. Had he ever seen us? If we rolled level we’d have collided one second later. Then he would!

The sky is mined with such characters every summer weekend, tweaking their gizmos, resetting their screens, unendingly beset by those artificial burps and bleeps that obscure the song of the wind. Meanwhile another, less sophisticated yet equally menacing, numbly stares at an uncompensated vario, wondering why it always seems to read DOWN. (‘Cause that’s where you’re looking, fool!)

I’ve thought about rigging up some kind of klaxon horn with real punch like firetrucks have, to get their attention… Buuut nowadays the highest-teckers have started wearing headphones — noise canceling no doubt.

I give.

Anyway, 2-33s can turn tighter than any racing ship and extract more energy from a thermal’s core. So as we climbed by inside that Discus I stuck my entire arm out the big back window and hailed it with the longest finger I had, taunting gratitude for our timely bath. He probly never noticed.