Tuesday, September 29, 2009

No Such Thing as Luck

"His luck ran out."

We hear about the mishap. Usually it involves a fellow aviator connected to us only by our shared commitment to life in the sky. But sometimes we know the name.

And someone says, "His luck ran out." Of course, there is no such thing as luck.

Our universe is irremediably stochastic. We are buffeted by the randomness of events in our world and we navigate through the resulting turbulence as best we can. Most days, we survive and even thrive. Some days, we feel relieved to get through it all undamaged. And on a few very rare, very scary days, our lives are in the balance and our skills are tested. Not everyone passes the test.

"His luck ran out," they say and we know the name. We know he was a skilled aviator, a good stick. Maybe we only "know" him from reading his comments on an internet forum. But when we saw his name we'd come to expect cogent, thoughtful, useful input. And our feeling was, we'd fly with him anywhere. But..."His luck ran out."

You fly for many hours and everything is just routine. "How was your flight," your colleagues ask. "Uneventful." Then, every so often, Fate gives a pop quiz. Just to see if you've been paying attention. Perhaps there is weather you didn't expect. Perhaps the controller clears you to a fix neither you nor the GPS anticipated. Maybe some useful part of the airplane decides to stop working. Nothing too hard - you get to think on your feet and solve the problem. That's what we aviators do.

And sometimes, Fate gives a Final Exam. The grading is Pass/Fail. If you pass, you get to keep on living. If you fail...

When the universe deals you a Final Exam-type situation your response has to be perfectly accurate and perfectly precise. A very good pilot with excellent skills and training, with no dangerous attitudes, with a wonderful airplane meticulously maintained and superbly equipped, can...even so...fall just a little bit short. And the next day, we will see his name. Someone will say, "His luck ran out."

Of course, there's no such thing as luck. But Fate is still the hunter.

Last Wednesday night Paul Valois was killed when his Cessna 210 crashed while attempting to land at a small airfield in Texas. He was well known to those who frequent the Cessna Pilot's Association web forum. Our thoughts are with his family. We'll miss him.

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