Negative Transfer

You can find one of the greatest examples of a negative transfer of learning in the cockpit of many of today’s training aircraft.  For whatever reason, the industry decided a long time ago steering yokes were more desirable rather than control sticks.

For students who are learning to fly before they learn how to drive, the question of a negative transfer of learning is moot.  However, for the vast majority of student pilots who learned how to drive first, using a control yoke in an airplane is many times, opposite of how it would be used in a car.

When a new student pilot begins learning to taxi an aircraft for the first time, their natural inclination is to try to “drive” the airplane around the taxiways and runways.  A flight instructor’s best bet on keeping new students from doing this begins with a calm wind which would not require aileron inputs during the taxi.  In this situation, the flight instructor can direct the student to literally sit on their left hand and use their right hand to control the throttle.

The negative transfer of learning is particularly enhanced and more critical during landing with a crosswind.  Once the student lines up the runway with a crosswind from the left, the wind correction angle will be to the left; the student pilot knows he or she must align the plane with the runway before touching down.  In their mind, the way to move the airplane’s nose to the right is by “steering” it.

This is of course, exactly the wrong thing to do.

When the inexperienced pilot turns the “steering wheel” to the right to make the front of the airplane go to the right, naturally the left wing will rise up.  As it does, the left crosswind gets underneath the left wing pushing it up higher to cause an out of control situation.

If the student recognizes the situation soon enough and has enough altitude, he or she may be able to avoid a serious accident.  On the other hand, if this happens close to the ground, the downwind wheel (in this example, the right wheel) may dig into the runway.  Depending on the strength of the wind and the speed of the aircraft, the plane may “skip” a couple of times or the right wing may very well dig into the ground spinning the airplane around.

The only way to properly train your student pilots in recognizing this situation and avoiding the hazards is by taking them out on a day with a fairly constant crosswind.  To emphasize and reinforce the idea of using the rudder to align the aircraft with the runway and check the drift using aileron, they have to be able to see this condition very well for themselves.  To do this, carefully have them fly the aircraft along the center line of a runway with a fairly strong and steady crosswind.

This exercise will allow them to gain a sense of what it takes to keep the nose going straight down the runway with rudder while keeping the airplane from drifting off the side with aileron.

After practicing a few of those one-wheel first crosswind landings and showing them how they must increase the control deflection as the airspeed decreases, they will soon become adept at landings in any condition.  They will also naturally figure out the definition of negative transfer of learning.

If I could have my way, all primary training aircraft would be equipped with control sticks instead of wheels.


© 2010 J. Clark

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2 Responses to Negative Transfer

  1. Jeff Mitchell says:

    When was the lat time you climbed into a Clipper. Not only do you have to crawl over one stick, you have to cross over the second one. Not a very good marketing tactic, remember that post war flying was meant to be as easy as driving a car.

  2. Joe Clark says:

    Hi Jeff,
    Yeah, I know. Remember that Piper ad for the Tri-Pacer we talked about one evening at the hangar? Cessna is just as guilty, too. They never should have put nosewheels on the Pacers and the 170s!

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