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.
SEE YOU SOON
Many of us waste too much time aloft looking nowhere in particular, and then going there. You should always be looking intently somewhere, for lots of reasons. And by this we don’t mean eyeballing your avionix, flight director or other trifles you’ve cluttered the cockpit with to distract yourself from reality. In a glider, if you’re not looking outside, you’re not looking.
Of course we must always watch for traffic. To find it, experts say gaze continually a few seconds at a time in one sector and then shift your sight line to an adjacent one, rather than sweeping across. It’s bogies’ movements against a still background that give them away.
Most traffic that’s not at your level is irrelevant anyway, except for implications about soaring potential, and focusing on trivial detail preempts other things that are important. Traffic at your altitude however, camouflaged by the horizon, remains a perpetual menace in every situation whether you see it or not. Any time you aren’t looking somewhere else for a better reason, study the horizon closely — the entire horizon, including behind on both sides. Someone may be back there, coming faster than you’re going. And never forget that your bird’s profile on that same horizon is also the hardest for others to see…
Once you do spot traffic, DON’T quit searching and fearfully watch it like an enemy about to attack. The challenge is to monitor known bogie(s) mentally while continuing to search elsewhere, for other traffic as well as vital info of all kinds.
Thankfully, soaring is about more than collision avoidance. It’s about everything. Situational awareness demands continually refreshing where you actually are, where you’re really going, and what the air ahead might or might not do — all essential to making smart, creative decisions instead of hapless ones. Confirming ground position, dodging shadows, anticipating the day’s evolution; there’s always more to see than you have time and eyes for.
And while we’re at it, visual acuity is not only a question of optics. I’ve known pilots who claim they don’t need glasses yet fail to see traffic in plain sight, or birds soaring nearby. That info’s not being missed by their eyes, it’s being ignored somewhere downstream, inside the skull. Between cornea and conscious mind swirls a multiverse of variables, physiological, psychological, metaphysical, you name it. Whatever data is fed through the optic nerves, it’s mind’s alone to utilize, misinterpret or never even notice. Given the choice, why not utilize everything your eyes make available? For our art to become more than just vapid entertainment, willfully gleaning all you can from what they provide is at once motivation, means and reward.
So much for generalities. Next time we’ll discuss more specifically where to find the very richest info.
This most recent northerly/easterly spell will conclude with a breezy Friday and Saturday, followed by the inevitable calming Sunday and beyond. We’ll be dedicating or whole fleet for a passel of rides with Boy Scouts on the weekend itself, and resuming normal operations on Monday.
SEE YOU SOON!