What Makes The Difference In The Air? (I)

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Pablo Edronkin

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All thorough history there have been seemingly good or bad airplanes, but what really makes the difference is the pilot.

The way in which the skill of a pilot guarantees the successful outcome of any situation despite the ostensible or apparent qualities of aircraft could arguably be observed thorough the history of military aviation and the evolution of air combat. The same principle is valid for civil aviation but seeing things clearly in this field would be a little bit harder since making comparisons between the facts know from emergencies in civil aircraft are more difficult to make.

In the case of air combat things can be observed easily because there are simply more similar cases to compare: Dog fighting and other confrontations between similar aircraft are quite common, while civil accidents are rarely similar.

Let's take for example the case of the Spitfire versus the Me-109; air combat took place between these two models scores of times, from the beginning right to the end of WWII. The number of occasions in which pilots using these two models fought each others is statistically very significant and conclusions can be extracted with high confidence, while similar incidents involving also similar civilian aircraft, while existing, are not so significant from a statistic point of view.

During extended conflicts like WWII certain phenomena tend to take place regarding aviation:

- Technology evolves and so aircraft and weaponry: The characteristics of those Spitfires fighting the German Me-109, as well as the Messerschmits themselves in 1939 were quite different from those of 1945.

- Experience increases among surviving pilots: Veterans become quite seasoned and those who survive tend to be the best because something quite similar to a natural selection of fighters develops, meaning that the pilots who survive are quite likely the fittest for the job.

- Casualties: While those able to survive may tend to thrive and even become aces or combat instructors that will teach a new generation of pilots how to fight, casualties tend to mount among those that are average or mediocre combat pilots, but the cost of training all three classes may be the same; besides, veterans may die too and so, the number of good, seasoned and highly valuable aviators may also show a trend towards extinction.

This is exactly what happened to the Japanese forces during WWII: The started with fighter planes like the Zero and the Hayabusa that were clearly superior to the aliied Grumman Wildcat, the Brewster Buffalo, Supermarine Spitfire or Hawker Hurricane.

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