News Bytes of the Week--Was the Red Baron Just Lucky? [News]

Friday, May 2, 2008 - 16:21 in Earth & Climate

Was the Red Baron just lucky?Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen, better known as the Red Baron, was the most feared German flying ace of World War I. He racked up 80 official air combat victories--the biggest winning streak on either side--before being shot down on April 21, 1918, over northern France. We're inclined to interpret the Baron's record as proof that he was the best of the best. But a study published in the Journal of Mathematical Sociology claims that much of Richthofen's success could be chalked up to plain old luck. German records list 2,894 WWI fighter pilots, who together scored 6,759 victories (planes shot down) and only 810 defeats. Although the win ratio seems suspiciously high, electrical engineers Mikhail Simkin and Vwani Roychowdhury of the University of California, Los Angeles, contend they can still use the numbers to 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. [More]

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