FEELING THE AIR The Path of Learning from Novice to Master As a Member of Wind Tunnel Flyer Community

by Minna Salonranta

Institution: University of Helsinki
Year: 2015
Keywords: Sosiaali- ja kulttuuriantropologia
Record ID: 1144130
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/10138/154595


The topic of my thesis is the learning process of wind tunnel flying skills from master to novice, and the simultaneous novice’s integration into community of practice. Learning the flying skills is not just mechanical repetition in the guidance of a flying instructor, although especially the early stages of learning occur by following a rather structured program. On the contrary, especially those who have proceeded to become skilled flyers themselves are encouraged to become innovative and develop the discipline into new levels. What characterizes the learning process in itself is the environment in which the flying and learning takes place: a cylinder shaped wind chamber, which has a turbine generated strong wind stream that in turn is loud enough to make speaking or listening in the wind chamber impossible. For this reason the language used for teaching and learning has developed into making use of the senses that are most conveniently used in the wind chamber, namely sense of touch and vision. In addition to this, the important aspects in the learning process are the sense of space, time and feeling the air, and the ability of body to remember the correct movements and how the air stream should feel in different flying positions and transitions. Learning to become a member of a community of practice happens side by side with gaining the flying skills: connecting with the other wind tunnel flyers takes place effortlessly, and especially through social media the availability of video narratives that take a form of a visual story, bring the members of social community close to one another regardless where they are physically located. There were three distinctive phases in the process of gathering the material for my thesis. The first one was integrating myself into the world of skydivers and after that into community of wind tunnel flyers – without this phase I would not have been able to ask the relevant questions concerning the learning of skills nor could I have understood the answers I received. The second was the actual filed work that was a combination of eight visits to Freezone wind tunnel near Moscow during the years 2009-2012 and shorter visits to other wind tunnels. My material from the field consists mostly of participant observation, videos of learning the flying skills, photographs, and conversations with both skilled coaches and their students. Interviews, the third phase, took place after I had finished gathering material from the field; in the interviews I concentrated into questions that still needed more detailed answers from informants. My thesis can be placed as a part of a more general discussion of anthropology of learning, especially as it pertains to learning in communities of practice, in which it is essential for members to show both commitment to a common goal and taking the responsibility of reaching the ambition while sharing the existing skills with newcomers. As a background material I used the research data of similar minded communities of practice, such as skydivers, climbers and…