When I was in flight school, qualifying to be a Naval Flight Officer, I did not have an easy time. I have a tendency to dig down into the details on things and sometimes that focus is too intense (I suppose that is the geek in me). The flights were about showing what you have learned on instrumentation, thinking on your feet, and the ability to take in a lot of data without being overwhelmed.
Many of the flights, we balanced navigation, fuel consumption, communication and the procedures necessary to keep the plane in the air. For the navigator it can be very heads down. The non-instinctual rules of flying by TACAN (the head falls and the tail rises) were initially very hard to remember when you have five or six other priorities that you have to get right. Much of the time, you call out for the pilot to turn left when you actually needed him to turn right. When it goes wrong, there is a good chance you will persist with the wrong direction while intently staring at the needle, willing it to move in the way you want.
For me, the night flights were built up as something nerve wracking. Not only would I have to balance all the different jobs but it was going to be DARK! After we finished our departure from Pensacola, I went into heads down mode.
I focused on the instruments and we began a circuit over Florida, Alabama, and Louisiana. Among other things I was graded on my ability to successfully navigate to each point on our route and to ensure we didn't run out of gas on the way.
Me: "Turn right to 275."
The plane turned and the needle stubbornly went the wrong direction. I must not have put in enough of a correction.
Me "Right to 278"
The needle would not move in the correct direction. My frustration was growing. At some point, air traffic control called us (most likely because we were off course, I thought).
Instead they told us about another plane flying near us.
I looked up.
Can you imagine flying for a living and not looking outside? For this potential navigator, apparently the dials and switches I had held much more interest.
I looked up and found the plane that was pointed out to us. Then, before I went back to my instruments, I saw the area.
The ground was a sea of black, with islands of bright light at each city or town. Airport beacons flashed white-green or white-white-green if it was a military airport.
The problem of which way to turn became easy - it was right outside the window all the time.
Night flying became one of my favorite things to do after that. My task load was not any lighter but I had learned the secret - the answers were there if I just looked up once in a while.