May 12, 2008

A game of chance and skill

Scientific American highlights a study that suggests the Red Baron was as much lucky as the best ace of his war.

He racked up 80 official air combat victories—the biggest winning streak on either side—before being shot down on April 21, 1918...

German records list 2,894 WWI...[...]...[analyze the pilots' defeat rate—their total chances of being shot down after each flight. That rate started off high—25 percent for the first flight—but fell sharply; by the 10th flight it had leveled off below 5 percent, consistent with the weaker pilots getting picked off and the remaining aces having similar skills in the air. At that rate, the researchers conclude that the odds of one in 2,894 pilots racking up an 80-win streak are about 30 percent—not so remarkable after all.
Still, I wouldn't bet my life on a on being the one in 2,894 with a 3 in 10 chance of success, with success being an 80-win streak that ended being
hit by a single .303 bullet, which caused such severe damage to his heart and lungs that it must have produced a very speedy death.

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