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Fear of heights

What do you do when a student admits to a fear of heights? Just say, ¿Welcome to the club.¿

Years ago I had a chance to chat with Chaytor Mason, a retired professor of aviation psychology at the University of Southern California. He said that the rate of acrophobia was upwards of 90 percent in some of the pilot groups he¿d studied. This is pretty significant considering that acrophobia is present in only 6 to 10 percent of the general population. My own estimates indicate that the percentage of acrophobia in the general aviation pilot population is far, far higher than 6 to 10 percent. It¿s interesting to speculate whether flying actually attracts those with acrophobia or if it helps to breed the phenomenon. Whatever the cause and effect, the most interesting news is that a fear of heights doesn¿t seem to have much effect on someone¿s ability to become a pilot.

Of course, there are varying degrees of acrophobia. Some folks experience it when leaning over a high balcony. Others can¿t even watch a video shot from the spires of a bridge or tower without feeling great discomfort. But for whatever reason, fear of heights generally doesn¿t present much of a problem once someone is seated and strapped into an airplane with hands on the controls. Being in control seems to play a big part in diminishing, if not completely eliminating, the effects of acrophobia.

So, if students say they have been afraid of heights since first looking over the edge of a high chair, let them know that they aren¿t alone and this fear will most likely not keep them from successfully flying airplanes. Explain to them that unlike most of the rest of life, they will be in control as the pilot-in-command, and this seems to make all the difference for most people.

By Rod Machado

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