I am a student pilot and I fly in a desert region where turbulence often changes the pitch and airspeed of my aircraft. I am having an issue maintaining pitch while scanning for other aircraft in the traffic pattern (I lose sight of the horizon while scanning). I might scan for 2-3 seconds and by the time I bring my eyes back to the horizon my pitch has changed 10 degrees and I have lost 5 knots of airspeed. My flight instructor then scolds me for not holding my airspeed. Is there a way to scan for traffic while still maintaining reference to the horizon?
When starting out as a pilot you are normally overwhelmed by all the tasks you need to do. Most of these tasks become second nature with time and experience. Here are some tips you could try.
Make sure the aircraft is trimmed correctly for the manoeuvre so that you do no need any force on the controls to keep the aircraft straight and level. Sometimes you can create your own turbulence because you did not trim correctly but then fight the controls.
Listen to the air noise. You could easily pick up from the change of air noise if the aircraft is loosing or gaining airspeed. A ten degrees pitch change will cause an airspeed change you will pick up by ear. Remember you are flying VFR so looking outside at the horizon to judge your pitch is very important. Flying the correct power setting and maintaining the correct pitch will help you a lot in flying because the aircraft will settle at a certain speed all by itself.
Maybe schedule your flying lessons when the air is more stable and turbulence is minimum. As you gain experience you will be able to handle the turbulence better.
Also try another instructor. Maybe another instructor might be able to understand your weakness and strengths better and handle the situation differently.
Ask many opinions from other pilots in the area. You will find that there are more than one technique sometimes. Just find the one that works for you.
Start by trimming the plane so you need minimal input to hold a current pitch. Try to practice that a bit to really get it right. Practice at different attitudes.. climbing, descending, and level flight.
Also, your cross check needs to be as fast as required to maintain control of the aircraft. That means every 2-3 seconds is too slow. Until you get the trim settled out, I would speed up the crosscheck. While you are scanning outside, just come in to your instruments for a quick peek, then back outside. Do that cross check cycle more often.