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.