Zero-Sum Games are like Socialism—someone gains by robbing another. Doesn’t that sound like fun, and why would anyone like to play such games? Yet, there are plenty of games where someone wins at the expense of another, think horseraces and casinos. Who among us ever traded cars and thought we won?

Your writer worked for the reigning monarch of zero-sum games, who believed winning was everything; his victories were never complete until he rubbed the losers face in the loss. Only then was he delighted by his success. This Conquestedor made risky decisions with the costs of his battles footed by the institution he was courageous, indeed.

We aviators, we few, we happy few, have no time for such foolishness. Aviation intrinsically demands the best of us, and every flight is a cooperative effort among professionals. It makes no difference if the pilot commands an Aeronca Champ or a Boeing 787, the four-stripe attitude transcends the petty exchange of money. Most of us will never command a Great Lakes thousand footer, but every time we launch into the sky, we are captains just the same whether we are paying or getting paid.

In the thousands of flights occurring every day, few if any of them are solo efforts. A pilot may be alone in the cockpit, but unseen others have a hand in completing safe flights.

Our general aviation preflights consist of hands-on checking. However, most of the airliners we ride on get entirely different preflights. They’re big airplanes, so the first officer cannot reach, or even see the critical stuff out there, so their preflight consists of doors, drips, and damage.

 

Yet, the captain signs for the multi-million dollar airplane and responsibility for hundreds of lives upon the word of maintenance department’s certification the craft is airworthy based upon the mechanic’s signature in the logbook. Likewise, most of us don’t participate in our aircraft’s annual inspection, but we accept the mechanic’s signature on our log-book, certifying it airworthiness.

Tower and approach controllers watch over us, and we depend on the Federal Aviation Administration to certify they are qualified. We depend upon Jason Puma and his team from NOAA, who spoke at last month’s dinner to predict and disseminate valid weather forecasts for our routes of flight.

An airplane cockpit enveloped by clouds and darkness is as lonely as solitary confinement when confronted with thunderstorms, ice, or systems failures. The left-seat responsibilities sometimes weigh heavily, but many find comfort in the calm voice of controllers on the ground who shadow and assist us in getting safely home.

Unlike zero-sum games, in aviation, when someone loses, we all lose. Hence, we’re all on the same team, and we want our team to win every time.

Perhaps you’re wondering what happened to the King of Zero-Sum games, well, he lost his job and his throne. The fall was swift and unexpected, and nary a tear fell as what went around finally came around. Father Merton was right: No Man is an Island.