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.