Negative Transfer

July 01, 2015 at 11:29 AM

Brad Whitsitt, inventor of the Xwind training device and instructor extraordinaire, likes to tell a story during our seminars about the client who had a 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 his easiest students to teach crosswind landings.  She positioned the aircraft for a wing-low approach and maintained directional control during the landing phase without trouble.  Why did she, an inexperienced and young student, not have any trouble while more experienced and older students were all over the place after landing?

Hands on steering wheelIf you're driving a car and it starts drifting to the right you naturally move the steering wheel to the left.  If you're landing an airplane in a strong right crosswind and you start drifting to the right, you have a strong tendency to turn the ailerons to the left.  This is the absolute wrong thing to do and can result in a runway excursion.  Once on the runway, your lateral position is controlled with the rudder pedals.  Turning the ailerons away from the wind can pick up the wing and cause bad control issues!  This is what is called "negative transfer" of learning.  It turns out that the young lady mentioned above had not started driving yet, so she didn't have the foundation for negative transfer.

Photo of hands on yokeNegative transfer "is 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." (Wikipedia "Transfer of Training")

The Xwind training device is ideal to help break this negative transfer cycle.  It is done through repetition of the landing sequence until the student shows mastery of the principle.  The beauty of it is that there's no danger of bent airplane metal in the process.

Radio Flyer posterI recently had a student who had a different negative transfer issue.  Turns out as a child he did a bunch of sledding where you would steer with your feet.  In order to turn right, you would press on 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 many landing repetitions.

Overcoming negative transfer in crosswind situations can take quite a bit of thinking at first.  However through repetition the activity becomes more muscle memory and second nature. 


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