Learning to Conquer a Fear

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Learning Experience

Timothy Bunnell

9/ 13/ 2010

Ronald Foster

Before enlisting in the United States Marine Corps, I was completely terrified of flying. My fear of flying was based on sensationalizing media reports of aircraft mishaps, and the devastation they sometimes caused. Once a Marine, I was conditioned by several methods of learning to develop a love of flying.

Learning Experience
Fear of flying is a well known phobia and is one that many people live and deal with everyday. Media coverage of disastrous aviation mishaps has provided much fuel to continue feeding this type of fear. Even though, statistically, flying is safer than driving as a mode of transportation, flying is still feared. Until joining the United States Marine Corps in 1995, I was terrified of flying. The first time I ever traveled by air was on my way to basic training at Parris Island, South Carolina. During this flight, I discovered two important things: I loved the feeling of flying, and I was absolutely terrified by being in the air.

When I enlisted in the Marines, my job was to be a helicopter mechanic. In the completion of my duties, I learned about the function of the aircraft, and realized that the aircraft is capable of doing amazing things, and that it is a remarkably safe aircraft. I was given the opportunity to begin flying as a crewmember when I received orders to deploy oversees in 1997. I was thrilled and terrified at the same time. I wanted to fly, but I needed to learn to control my fear of flying. Through several methods of conditioning, I was able to not only control my fear of flying; I was able to completely overcome it. Classic Conditioning

In learning to overcome my fear, I had to learn to be able to trust the aircraft, and to trust my ability to function while in the air. The thought of trying to do this in an actual flying aircraft did not seem to be the best way to handle this. In an attempt to simulate performing in flight, I was requested to train in the aircraft weapon simulator. The simulator was used by pilots to simulate the aircraft function, motion, noise, and smell while having the safety of never breaking the deck. In addition to just training in the simulator, I was given the opportunity to actually take the controls and fly the simulator. As an avid video-gamer, this was a huge reward for me, as this was a life-sized, full motion simulator. The unconditioned stimulus in this learning experience was the sensation and thrill of flight. The unconditioned responses were the rush of excitement, the sense euphoria, and complete lack of fear. In this learning experience, I was able to develop a confidence based on training in the simulator to build up to training in the actual aircraft. It also gave me a better understanding of how the aircraft’s flight mechanics work to fly safely. I was familiarized with the aircraft functionality as a mechanic, and through the simulator, so the fear was reduced to a point that enabled me to get into the aircraft and fly. The conditioned stimulus was flight time, and use of the simulator. The conditioned response was excitement at the prospect of flying. Operant Conditioning

In addition to classical conditioning methods, I also learned from operant conditioning. The behavior that was expected was satisfactory performance as a member of the crew. I knew that in order to do this, I needed to control my fear, and work with confidence. There were several consequences that helped to successfully develop this behavior. One of the consequences of successfully performing as a member of the crew was increased flight time. The better I performed, the more I was scheduled to fly. An additional consequence was an increase in salary by receiving flight pay. The more I flew, the more qualified I became. The more qualified I became, the more I was paid. These consequences provided positive reinforcement in the form of more money, and...
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