Way back when, my highschool still offered shop classes. I took drafting and metal working. Of the two drafting did me more long-term good, but wreaked havoc on my grades. It is said that women have more difficulty visualizing things in three dimensions – spatial imaging. This sample of one certainly fits the pattern. I can draw things from life, measure carefully, get the scale correct, and so on. But present me with two views and have me draw the third? I was very proud of that C+.
And then came instrument flying…
The rules made sense. Following the instruments made sense, once you acknowledged that instrument flying was an unnatural act and felt like it (thanks, Gordon Baxter). But being able to “see” where I was on an instrument chart, especially an approach plate? No. Having a poor instrument instructor did not help, as I discovered later when I learned that I’d been taught one of the holding patterns completely wrong. The chief pilot could not fathom what the h-ll I was doing. I could not understand why he was screaming at me. We found out when we got on the ground and I diagrammed the pattern for him. What I’d been taught was almost exactly opposite what everyone else did. Oh boy.
Relearning instrument flying is no fun if you learn it wrong. Anyway…
I could fly instruments safely, especially if I had some sort of wing-leveler to use while setting up the beginning of an approach. For those non-pilots, or non-instrument pilots, there are a limited number of ways one can get from up there to down here. Why? Because 1) there is only one runway you can land on and 2) having everyone show up from random directions at random rates of approach and descent could lead to moments of loud, crunchy interest. So there are broad arcs that serve as entrance ramps leading to the initial approach fix, the point where you are supposed to have everything squared away and are getting ready to approach the airport. From the IAF the plane descends to the final approach fix (FAF), the gate where you are committed to shooting the approach, and where your ducks (airspeed, gear up or down, flap settings, power settings, radio settings, seatbelts) must be in a row for a safe under-control approach. In most cases, you fly a straight line (heading) from the IAF to the FAF to the runway. This is good.
I have to follow along on the plate with one finger to keep track of where I am. I can either hold a vertical mental picture – elevation – or horizontal – place relative to IAF and FAF. I cannot see the two at the same time in my mind. Three-D doesn’t happen in a moving airplane, at least not inside Alma’s head.
Even when I was flying instruments daily and shooting approaches daily, I had to have the plate out and a finger on it. Only once out of several hundred instrument approaches did I actually manage to visualize everything in three dimensions as it took place. The weather cooperated, the approach was simple, the autopilot did what it was supposed to, the engines obeyed, and I did not have passengers to keep track of. Once, everything worked in my brain and I actually saw what I was supposed to be seeing. Once.
So, if you have ever wondered why my battles and such are always two-dimensional, why I stick with places and times without air support and over-the-horizon artillery, now you know.
I don’t see three-D.