What Makes The Difference In The Air? (II)

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Pablo Edronkin

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However, after some significant setbacks like the battle for the Coral Sea and the ill-fated operation on Midway, the Japanese armed forces could no longer replace the well experienced and combat proven crews that they had in the beginning, while the allied forces were gathering experience.

Even as Japanese engineers and aircraft manufacturers churned out more advanced and capable models and versions that were arguably able to confront the new generation of allied fighter, they could not turn the tide because of a lack of trained pilots, a factor that ultimately led to the formation of the kamikaze squadrons.

During WWII numerous aircraft were designed, and some have been considered historically to be very good while others very bad because they were frequently on the losing side in combat. Such is the case of the Buffalo that we mentioned earlier. This plane, pitted against the Japanese by U.S. pilots, the Dutch colonial forces in Java, the British, New Zealanders and Australians resulted in a virtual flying coffin, a suicidal proposition almost in every occasion. In the Pacific theatre the Buffalo earned the popular reputation of being the worst airplane ever; however, as the U.S. forces got rid of their Buffalos, a number of them reached the hands of the Finnish that were pitted in 1940 against the Soviet Army in the Winter War.

During this conflict and the ensuing WWII arctic theatre, the Buffalos that were piloted by aviators of Finland attained one of the highest kill ratios of the whole global conflict, only surpassed by machines like the F4 Corsair and F6 Hellcat; these were the same Buffalos that proved disastrous in the hands of other pilots and the Finnish loved them so much that thy nicknamed the plane as the Humus and even embarked on a program to copy and manufacture them locally.

And another historically proven case that shows how important the mind of the aviator is for successful operations is that of the almost mythical Flying Tigers, a squadron of mercenary pilots that flew for China in 1940 and 1941, before the entry of the U.S. into the conflict. Claire Chennault, the leader of the squadron, sincerely insisted that his pilots should never attempt to engage the manoeuverable machines and skilled Japanese pilots in their own terms, and using battered P40-B Tomahawks from a batch rejected by the British because they considered this plane to be inferior to their own Spitfire for confronting the Me-109, the Flying Tigers not only survived the Japanese but actually inflected them the highest kill ration of the whole war.

In the short period of span that the Flying Tigers fought as an independent force, they managed to shot down more Japanese airplanes than anybody else during the conflict, and this, considering that they used aircraft against the Japanese Zero that were considered inferior to the Spitfire, which in turn, proved to be inferior to the imperial Navy's white fighter bomber.

From all these historical facts it is fairly easy to conclude that what makes the difference in a cockpit is the pilot, more than anything else. This is the decisive factor in any sort of air operation, whether civilian, experimental or military; the training of the pilot is the most important aspect of aeronautics.

Having advanced avionics may be comfortable and more efficient; but it could be counterproductive to train a student pilot in a way that makes him or her dependant on that technology. Before learning how to navigate using a GPS, the pilot should become an aviator and learn how to use a compass.

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