May I ask your opinion on what is the best and most effective pattern for a VFR pilot to scan their instruments during manoeuvres?

  • $\begingroup$ Can you clarify if you're asking about a) scanning for other traffic in visual conditions, or b) scanning your instruments in instrument conditions? Your question mentions VFR, but your tags are all about IFR and instruments, so I'm not sure what you're really asking. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Jan 2 '19 at 5:10
  • $\begingroup$ Hi it will be on VFR Flying. Apologies on that, I couldn’t add any tags that relates to what I am asking about. $\endgroup$ – shogunnyan Jan 2 '19 at 5:11
  • $\begingroup$ VFR Flying, scanning for instruments when you execute manoeuvres. $\endgroup$ – shogunnyan Jan 2 '19 at 5:12
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the clarification, I've updated your question to make it clearer (hopefully!). If I got it wrong, please edit it again as you like. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Jan 2 '19 at 5:17

A VFR pilot shouldn't really be "scanning" the instruments in the sense that an IFR pilot does; he should be scanning the sky for traffic (see my first answer) while using his peripheral vision to maintain attitude. Yes, he should periodically (and briefly) check the instruments to make sure nothing is amiss, but then go back to scanning for traffic. I wasn't taught any particular "scan" for that, just to look at whichever instruments seem most useful for what I'm doing at the moment.

If you're having trouble holding proper altitude and airspeed as a VFR student pilot (from a comment to other answer), you may be spending too much time looking at the instruments rather than not enough. That may seem counter-intuitive, but the key to both is attitude. Get the right attitude, using the artificial horizon or other instruments at first if necessary, then look outside at the real horizon (in particular, the relation of your nose to it) and then just maintain that picture while you do your traffic scan.

The only time a VFR pilot is supposed to be "scanning" the instruments is during hood training. For that, I was taught the "T" scan: assuming you have a six-pack in the standard arrangement, you focus on the AI (top center) and then briefly look left at airspeed, then back, then down at heading, then back, then right to altitude, then back. Repeat until the hood comes off.

  • $\begingroup$ Alright mate, thank you so much for your advice. I’ll force myself not to keep looking at the instruments when I do my first solo check ride today. Cheers! $\endgroup$ – shogunnyan Jan 3 '19 at 3:11

(Answer based on original wording of question, which sounded like he was asking about scanning the sky for traffic.)

The method I was taught is to hold your eyes steady on each clock position for 1-3 seconds. This takes advantage of how your peripheral vision is more sensitive to movement. If your eyes are constantly moving, everything you see is moving, so your brain filters it all out.

For the same reason, if you know someone is there (CTAF or ATC calls) but don't see them right away, try looking 30° (one clock position) off angle either way to engage your peripheral vision.

Note that objects coming directly toward you don't move, which is why you need to scan with your detailed center vision to detect size changes. That also works better with the clock scan rather than continuous scan, but I'm not as sure why.

  • $\begingroup$ That’s something new for me. Looks like I have been scanning too fast that I’m not actually taking anything in! Thank you for your perspective and I’ll try to apply it the next sortie, and hopefully I will improve my height and airspeed maintenance for my first solo! $\endgroup$ – shogunnyan Jan 2 '19 at 3:18
  • $\begingroup$ You detect movement with the low res but very sensitive cells in your peripheral vision, and resolve detail with the densely packed cells of the macula, the little pinky fingernail sized area in the center. Just stare at text you haven't seen before and note how far away you can actually resolve letters without moving your view. It's an area the size of a dime on a computer screen. People with macular degeneration on their retinas can take in the big scene but have a little hole in the center and can't see any detail in their world. They can only read text with huge letters. $\endgroup$ – John K Jan 2 '19 at 3:29
  • $\begingroup$ I think there may be some confusion here. I believe your answer is about scanning for other traffic, but the OP has now clarified that the question is about scanning instruments. $\endgroup$ – Pondlife Jan 2 '19 at 5:22
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    $\begingroup$ @shogunnyan I'm confused about why you marked this as the accepted answer, since you were asking about scanning the instruments (not scanning for traffic), but this answer is about scanning for traffic (not scanning the instruments). Maybe you read this answer and mistakenly thought that it was about scanning the instruments? $\endgroup$ – Terran Swett Jan 2 '19 at 5:42
  • $\begingroup$ Oh apologies. I thought the green tick was there to acknowledge that I read it. Ok undone the green tick! $\endgroup$ – shogunnyan Jan 2 '19 at 5:54

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