Learning to fly

What a fascinating week I have had. I recently bought a VLA (very light aircraft) with some friends and I’ve had to do a conversion so that I can fly the new type of aircraft – the Czech built Jora UA2 Special.

On Thursday this week, I had planned to fly with a friend of mine Jamie who is in the process of getting his pilots licence before doing my conversion in the afternoon. We hired a Cessna 152 from Stellenbosch Flying Club. We headed out off runway 19 and turned to the north heading for Fisantekraal airfield.

We did a couple of circuits and watching Jamie getting his head around what was going on in the cockpit while lining up for final approach was interesting for me. It took me back to when I learned to fly in the early 90’s. At the time I couldn’t get my head around the number of things going on in the cockpit as I struggled to line up all three planes and walk away from my landings.

I remember everything happening so quickly and how I struggled to coordinate my actions. I would be left of the runway and as I adjusted my flight path to correct that, I would find myself having dropped too low. When I adjusted my altitude, I would find myself right of the runway and so it continued. Very frustrating and left me with feelings of total inadequacy.

Flying with Jamie, made me feel quite proud of what I had achieved over the years, as I was able to effortlessly make corrections as I brought the plane in to land. I mentioned to James that it was a bit like driving a car. Once you get to the point when you don’t need to consciously think about what you need to do then you have arrived. Little did I know what was in store for me later in the day.

We landed back at Stellenbosch in time for some breakfast and then I was meeting up with my partner Phil to fly in our new Jora in preparation for me to do the conversion a few hours later. Sitting in the Jora, as with moving to any new plane, felt quite different.

The cockpit is open at the top to give a full overhead view, flying with a stick instead of yoke, breaks on the stick instead of the rudder pedals, throttle next to the door instead of the middle, everything was different. What it did was send me all the way back to the beginning in terms of my flying.

When it came to the landings, it felt like everything had sped up again, I couldn’t coordinate the various inputs and I felt like a complete novice. It was a humbling and wonderful learning experience for me. It really emphasized the Conscious Competence Learning Model which states that we go through 4 stages of learning:

1. Unconscious Incompetence – we don’t know what we don’t know
2. Conscious Incompetence – we know what we don’t know
3. Conscious Competence – we can function by being conscious
4. Unconscious Competence – we can do things on auto pilot (pun)

The things I notice that are different between Conscious Competence and Unconscious Competence are that everything slows down and there is a sense of time and space. Perhaps it is that the unconscious is taking care of a lot of what needs to be done, leaving the conscious with more time.

The cycle was a lot quicker because I have the base knowledge to fly one type of plane and I am converting my knowledge rather than starting from scratch. It was interesting to experience feeling incompetent in an environment where I had previously felt so competent – on the same day.

What have you learnt recently and where you could apply the Conscious Competence Learning Model?

Author: Dale Williams

Dale is based in Cape Town on the southern tip of Africa from where he maintains connections with people all over the world through his portfolio life.