Visual References and the Clockface

This lesson describes how pilots use visual references and the clockface when looking at and locating objects outside the glider.

Learning Points

Visual References

As soon as you leave the ground, the view changes dramatically. Nearby objects are suddenly underneath you, and items far away in the landscape appear much closer. References that are close by and obvious on the ground, like an airfield, can easily disappear beneath you when flying! So we tend to look much further afield. Travelling cross country in good visibility, you will navigate with reference to things in the landscape like power station chimneys, estuaries or prominent hills that could be 50km or more away. Closer to hand, you may pick out towns, reservoirs, or an area of bright yellow crop fields. These are your visual references, enabling you to maintain a direction, or avoid overflying an imaginary line in the sky (which just might define prohibited airspace you need to stay clear of!).

Using the Clockface

Occasionally we need to tell someone else, such as your instructor, where these things are – especially if it is another airplane. Sometimes we need to tell another pilot we have seen them, and where we are in relation to each other. Using the hours on an imaginary clockface makes this much simpler. We imagine that we are sat on a clockface, with the glider’s nose pointing to 12 o’clock. We can then refer to another pilot seen at 90 degrees to our right as being at our 3’o’clock. Another seen at 90 degrees to our left is at our 9’o’clock. We can add High or Low to this, to place them above or below us.

Performing the Exercise

As an exercise, describe what references you might pick out, and what you’d see without needing to look directly at it.

This video show the pilot flying around a bit, for you to practise picking out visual references
The same video as above, with audio and pop-up descriptions
About the videos

Multiple versions of the videos are being made available:

  • With animation and voiceover.
  • Alternative without the animation graphics.
  • As recorded in Condor Flight School. These will have messages at the top of the screen, with no additional animation or voiceover – that’s the way the Condor cookie crumbles!

The videos are suited to any device that supports YouTube. If you have trouble loading the video in the browser, click on Watch on YouTube in the lower left corner.

Further Reading and References


The lessons were developed for Condor2. They will be updated from time to time. Visit the Downloads page for news of updates, and to request the latest version.

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