CARDINAL DIRECTIVE

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?