Muscle Memory

Follow-up to our CRM article by Phil Wilhelm

Muscle Memory, really?  I fondly remember the story of my son, his football coach, and several teammates who attended a speech by the famous football coach, Lou Holtz.  Coach Holtz asked the audience to hold their hands up in front of them, twelve inches apart, and when he said “hut”, they were to clap.  Several times he would count, “ready set, 2-21, 2-21, 2-21, hut”.  Each time his cadence was different, and each time the audience, with a few exceptions (my son and his teammates among them), would clap at the wrong time, either too soon or too late.  When my son tells the story he mimics himself looking left and right at the non-football players with a look on his face that said, “how can you guys be so dumb?”

Coach Lou Holtz

Coach Lou Holtz

Today we call that muscle memory, but clearly it’s not the muscles that are being trained, but the brain to think and react in a certain way.  That’s what playing a sport, learning to drive, and flying are all about.  I find it ironic that a lot of my fellow pilots think their training days are over once they get the ticket they so desired.  They seem to think that the days of learning, “muscle memory”, which is what CRM is all about, are over.

Am I being elitist when I say the NTSB and I think alike?  I use to disparage the press after every aircraft accident saying, “they’re going to blame the pilot; they do every time”. But then I would remember to follow up with the NTSB final report.  Usually an accident was a chain of events leading to a crash and many times it was because of a lack of “muscle memory (i.e. CRM)” that a crash happened.  I contend that at a point where a pilot feels he/she no longer needs to exercise Crew Resource Management, that pilot is already brain dead.  And here is a revelation, even to me, that one’s CRM skills can be increased even when not flying.  I have discovered that an inexpensive flight simulator (read: not just a game) can aid in “continuing education”.  While a flight sim is not flying, it stimulates the brain to think, “yep a real airplane would act that way”, or “no, that’s not how it works.”

It is my hope that all pilots, military or civilian, ATP or beginning student, will swear on a stack of Jeppesen aviation charts to never, never, never stop working on muscle memory.  “2-21, 2-21, 2-21, hut!”