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Professionally Speaking

Righting Wrong

Every time I am exposed to something new, I gain a new appreciation for the plight of the student pilot.

Here's what happened: My wife Gail and I rented a car and drove more than 1,300 miles in England and Scotland. Those countries insist that cars drive on the left side of the road, and everyone warned me that adapting would be harder than I thought. I couldn't for the life of me figure out why that should be true. After all, haven't I been driving a car for more than 45 years?

My daughter, Melanie, who has driven everywhere, warned me that judging distances on the left side of the car would be hard. I would, she said, have a tendency to run over curbs and into ditches on the left side. No way, I figured. I have been sitting on the left side of the car judging distances on the right for decades; why should it be any harder sitting on the right side and judging distances on the left?

My, was I surprised!

I ran over three curbs during the first 15 minutes I drove. By the end of our trip, I still hadn't learned to judge well on the left; but I had learned to compensate. No telling how long it would take me to feel comfortable driving on the "wrong" side.

Shortly after our return, I talked with our son Kevin, who is a student pilot in California. He was feeling a tad embarrassed because he sometimes pushes the wrong rudder. I remember feeling double dumb - and terrified - when I did the same thing as a student pilot at Epps Aviation in Atlanta, Georgia, way back in 1969. (Just to show you how terrified I was, I can still remember that it was on a touch and go on Runway 18 at Dekalb-Peachtree Airport.) I, like Kevin, wondered how I could do something so stupid.

Then it hit me - it was just like driving on the wrong side of the road! Kevin and I aren't stupid; we were just trying to do something with which we had no experience. I have driven on the right side of the road for decades, but never on the left. Why should I expect to be good at it? Kevin has extensive experience with bicycles and motorcycles, on which you push on the right to go left. Why should he expect to immediately grasp the opposite concept in an airplane?

There is an old saying - if you can't understand why children have so much trouble doing things, just try doing something - anything - wrong-handed. Then remember that for children, everything is done wrong-handed because they have no experience. (Perhaps there should be an FAA regulation requiring that all CFIs eat one meal wrong-handed every 90 days.)

The good CFI understands that students are in a brand-new world, doing everything wrong-handed. They understand and don't expect the student to do everything right at first. But the student doesn't always understand that. All too often, the student thinks he/she must be stupid.

After a mistake, a few words from the CFI can help tremendously. "You pushed on the wrong rudder," you might say, "and that is perfectly normal. Everyone does that at first. You'll get over it as you learn."

My CFI did that, and it surely did help. He almost convinced me that I wasn't a total doofus.

Ralph Hood, an aviation speaker and writer, has been flying for 33 years and has amassed more than 3,000 hours of flight time. He is a multiengine commercial pilot with an instrument rating.

By Ralph Hood

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