Unlearning Bad Habits

Brad Whitsitt, inventor of the Xwind training device and instructor extraordinaire, likes to tell a story during our seminars about a client and his 14-year old daughter. He wanted her to learn how to land the airplane in case he became incapacitated during a flight. She ended up being one Whitsitt’s easiest students to teach crosswind landings. Unlike most adult students, she readily learned to position the aircraft for a wing-low approach and maintain directional control during the landing phase. Why did she, an inexperienced young student, not have any trouble, while more experienced and older students are most often all over the place after landing?

If you’re driving a car and it starts drifting to the left you naturally move the steering wheel to the right. If you’re landing an airplane in a strong left crosswind and you start drifting to the left, you have a strong tendency to turn the ailerons to the right. This is the absolute wrong thing to do and can result in a runway excursion. Turning the ailerons away from the wind can pick up the wing and cause bad control issues! Then, once on the runway, lateral position is controlled with the rudder pedals, not the “steering wheel.” These are two examples of is what is called “negative transfer” of learning. The young lady mentioned above had not started driving yet, so her reactions were not imprinted with a driver’s foundation for negative transfer.

Wikipedia defines negative transfer as: “when prior learning or training hinders acquiring a new skill or reaching the solution to a new problem. In this situation, the individual performs worse than that he would have had he not been exposed to the prior training.”
I recently had a student who had a different negative transfer issue. Turns out, as a child he did a bunch of sledding, where you steer with your feet. To turn right, you press with the left foot, and vice-versa. So while he maintained perfect aileron position, he tended to press the wrong rudder pedal to correct for drift on the runway. Of course, we worked through this issue through multiple landing repetitions to build the necessary muscle memory.

Whitsitt’s Xwind training device is a great way to help break this negative transfer cycle. Repetition of the landing sequence allows the student to master the principle. The beauty is there’s no danger of bent airplane metal in the process. Overcoming negative transfer in crosswind situations can take quite a bit of thinking at first. However, through repetition, the activity becomes more like second nature.

 

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