In Real Life, an ace is technically a pilot with five or more kills. This is harder than it sounds; even in conflicts like World War II, where aerial combat occurred on a vast scale, the average fighter pilot had zero confirmed kills from the day he got his wings to the day he bought his farm. In World War II, only about 5% of pilots made ace, and they were responsible for 50% of all air-to-air kills. The term is most commonly associated with aircraft pilots, but other types, such as tank aces, also exist. As well as anyone has been able to determine, aces are born, not trained. Ace pilots are common in fiction, most prominently in mecha shows. They tend to be more prominent in Real Robot shows, where the mecha themselves are fairly equal and the pilot's skills are more important, than Super Robot shows, which place more emphasis on the power of the mecha and heroic hot-bloodedness.
An Ace Pilot will likely display all sorts of Improbable Piloting Skills, such as the High-Speed Missile Dodge. Aces may or may not come with wingmates. They will often have Machine Empathy, allowing them to sense problems from subtle differences in how their craft moves/feels/sounds. Depending on the time period, may wear an Adventurer Outfit.
An Ace Pilot is not necessarily The Ace in terms of personality, although they can be. Famous aces may be given a cool-sounding nickname like, oh, say, the Red Baron. They also may only be Graceful in Their Element, and are (though not The Klutz) plodding on land.
Piloting Styles Preferred By Aces
Bushwhackers are cunning, devious pilots who eschew easy-to-evade frontal attacks in favor of taking potshots from the rear or other blind spots. When engaged in a duel, they try to wriggle out of it and drop out of the enemy's field of view so they can come in from another direction and catch the foe off-guard. Frequently, bushwhackers will sacrifice spare weapons as decoys, distracting the enemy so they can ambush them from behind (e.g, the Picard Maneuver). Most real world Aces are Bushwhackers.
Snipers are similar to bushwhackers, but rather than using skill to escape a duel, have the accuracy and firepower to end each duel the moment it begins. They hide behind asteroids and colonies, popping up to take potshots at their targets, and try to avoid close combat and running from battles at all costs.
Pluggers—for want of a better term—are defensive players, who manage to stay calm and collected even under continuing attacks from bushwhackers or steamrollers. By continually dodging and deflecting enemy attacks, they can tie up otherwise dangerous foes in time-wasting sparring matches, and may even be able to sneak in the occasional counterattack.
Civilian examples exist as well. While civilian pilots, obviously, don't technically meet the military definition because the goal of civilian flight is to not kill people (which means most who weren't military before do not have kills), some civilian pilots have saved lives and property with overwhelming skill and capability, overcoming multiple engine failures, hydraulic failure, and many other incidents which would fall under No One Could Survive That.
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Anime and Manga
Eren Yeager and the other Titan Shifters from Attack on Titan. You thought piloting a 15 meter tall giant wasn't possible? Think again! This show at it's core is a Humongous Mecha Anime.
Shin, Mickey, Saki, and many other mercenary fighter pilots in Area 88.
Pete Pumps from Ginban Kaleidoscope was this before he died in episode 1.
The Macross franchise has a bunch, and an interesting tradition of the best pilot in the show not being the main character:
Max Jenius in the original Super Dimension Fortress Macross, and Milia Fallyna on the other side, until the two fell in love and she defected. Max takes this to such an extent that Word of God has confirmed him to be the best pilot in the franchise, bar none. Even when in his fifties and with somewhat "rusty" piloting skills in Macross 7, he still outperforms every other Ace in the series combined when he hops in a fighter.
While not the absolute best, the hero, Hikaru Ichijyo, was an extremely skilled pilot as well.
As was Hikaru Ichijyo's sempai, Roy Focker. Roy was the best pilot in Macross Zero, though, the protagonist being his other student, Shin Kudo.
Sylvie Gina and Nexx Gilbert in Macross II. (The main character, Hibiki Kanzaki, is an Ace Reporter flying unarmed civilian craft instead.)
Ozma Lee in Macross Frontier is more or less a match for Alto; the two fought (almost) to a draw. Ozma actually won by a couple of points due to his much greater experience and Alto being quite conflicted at the time. Michel, meanwhile, was the company's ace sniper.
Akito Tenkawa of Martian Successor Nadesico, as well as his mentor Gai, do this, though the former is also known to use Bushwhacker-style tricks when the situation calls for it. Akatsuki & Ryoko are probably the best Aestivalis pilots in the series, though.
Code Geass has two main examples, Kururugi Suzaku for Britannia and Kallen Stadtfeld/Kozuki for the Black Knights. Several others can be considered above average such as some of the Knights of the Round, and some of the Black Knights, but none of them hold a candle to the above two.
Kallen Stadtfeld is a definite steamroller, which is required because her only useful weapon is close-range, which means that she has to be aggressive in order to survive. Even when she gets long-range attacks, she sticks to this in most cases.
In an odd case of "Unstoppable force meets Immovable Object", Suzaku Kururugi uses the same strategy, even though he uses a well-rounded machine not nearly as suited to it as hers is. But Suzaku, being Suzaku, simply fails to capitalize on this in areas that his opponents lack... unless he's on a mission. This is particularly telling with any battle where he and Kozuki clash, save when emotions get in the way.
Noa Izumi from Patlabor. She's not really amazingly good, though, so much as always reliable, and in the ultimate Real Robot series that counts for a lot more. In one episode, her "forward" points out that her reaction time is worse than Ohta's, but her motions are more efficient (Ohta will start moving first, but Izumi will complete the action first).
Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS has Nanoha in a high-ranking position in an alien air-force, the lack of planes not being an issue when you can fly without them. In fact, her official in-show nickname is "Ace of Aces". Her combat style is steamroller. It is worth noting that mages in Nanoha have strong shields, and mentally-guided projectiles help with aiming, so it's more a matter of "breaking through their shields with brute force" than "hoping they'll slip up and take a hit". The one ace Nanoha has never beaten in a square fight is Signum. She's the ultimate plugger, wearing down her enemies with a strong defense before unleashing her own Wave Motion Sword.
The various versions of Area 88 feature many aces among the mercenary pilots, including protagonist Shin Kazama, his friend Mickey Simon, and base commander Saki Vashtal. There are others, but they tended to die shortly after being introduced.
Strike Witches features various historical World War II aces... re-imagined as Lolis. With animal ears. And no pants. In terms of tactics, most of them appear to be Bushwhackers or Steamrollers, while Sanya and Lynette are Snipers.
Both Klaus and his mother of Hyakujitsu No Bara are flying aces, Klaus having at least 10 confirmed kills marked on his plane's tail in one flashback.
Similar to the Lyrical Nanoha example above, Mai-Otome has plenty of aces among the Otome. The two top combat aces, Haruka and Shizuru, are textbook examples of the Steamroller and Bushwhacker respectively.
Char's second coming, Full Frontal, is primarily also a steamroller who shows that his performance on the field isn't just because of the Sinanju, but he is also shown to be more adaptive, pulling Bushwhacker tricks with his utilization of the debris field and his own propellant tanks to throw off the Unicorn and the Londo Bell MS Team.
The side stories from the One Year War give us many more aces of the One Year War and beyond, with pilots like Shin Matsunaga, Johnny Ridden, Anavel Gato, Agar, Lydo Wolf and Ken Bederstadt who all get awesome names and back stories that tell of their skills. There are many more names, but props really just have to be given to the Zeon and EFSF's highest scoring aces, Breniff Oguz and Tenneth Jung, both of whom are snipers.
Zeta Gundam's main character Kamille is arguably not the best pilot, since he draws a lot of strength from his Newtype powers. Char/Quattro might be number one here. Also of note is Yazan Gable, a near-inhumanly skilled Badass Normal of a Bushwhacker who makes up for his lack of Newtype powers through low cunning and sheer brutality.
Gundam ZZ's main cast also relies on Newtype powers for the most part. It's hard to find a good pilot who isn't equipped with an overpowered suit or Newtype powers, but Elle Vianno, Judau's fourteen-year-oldUnlucky Childhood Friend, manages to be an astonishingly capable Plugger despite piloting the oldest, clunkiest suits on the Argama. There's also villainous ace Rakan Dahkaran, who favours heavily armed and armoured Lightning Bruiser mobile suits for steamroller tactics.
From both the above series: Haman Karn. Though she spends most of her time politicking rather than fighting, when she does get in a mobile suit, she is dangerous. At the climax of Zeta she defeats Char overwhelmingly and remains a serious threat throughout ZZ, and even in her final battle, she was holding back roughly half her firepower, and she was still kicking the ZZ Gundam around like a toy for most of it.
The 08th MS Team was something of a break from standard Gundam fare in this regard, as none of the protagonists were considered aces even if they were arguably skilled pilots (except for Terry Sanders Jr, who had exactly five kills), and the show goes out of its way to differentiate merely being good and being an actual ace. Though most of the eponymous team are experienced pilots by the end, Norris Packard, the only character to be termed an ace, is in a league of his own. A classic bushwhacker, he was able to take on the entire 08th MS team on his own and keep them on the ropes through creative use of equipment and terrain.
Herman Yandell displays Ace tank gunnery (and command), although his Ace status might be in question as he's mostly known around EFGF tank battalions as a Sole Survivor, but it counts as he's got the highest score amongst all of them and is the only one to ever return from fighting "The White Ogre" Elmer Snell, who's a Steamroller. Yandell's tactics put him as a Bushwhacker, as he's shown to take advantage of a previous battlefield's environment and its remains, make full use of the tank's extensive loadout and use his own allies to trick the enemy. Likely a necessary thing as pulling a Steamroller on a Zaku with a tank would get one killed.
Major Jean Luc Duvall from the first set of MS IGLOO movies was presented as Zimmad Corporation's ace who was sent to show the awesomeness of the Zudah. He certainly moves like an ace, of which kind I'm not sure, since he struck at the Ball and GM teams like a Steamroller, then ran and forced the GMs to chase him and burn out their own engines before blowing up himself.
Umon of Crossbone Gundam is notable for two reasons - firstly, he made ace in a single battle during the OYW by destroying six Doms. Secondly, he pulled this feat off while piloting a Ball.
Mobile Suit Victory Gundam: Usso Evin, despite being 13 years old, favored bushwacking tactics because he primarily took part in guerrilla warfare, wishes to avoid killing if possible, and because by that point (UC 153) weapons are so powerful that a single hit from a beam rifle is enough to destroy a mobile suit (provided it hits the torso containing the nuclear reactor and the cockpit). Nevertheless, he cemented his ace pilot status by using all other styles at least once and regularly defeating superior numbers thanks to the sheer tactical adaptability and creativity that he displayed (with ideas such as creating a small tsunami to use as a decoy).
Mobile Fighter G Gundam is filled with obvious elite pilots, though they are more Martial Artists from Hell than real pilots. (Still, most notable are probably Domon, Master Asia and Schwarz Bruder.)
The title probably has to be given to Rent-a-Char Zechs Merquise/Milliardo Peacecraft. Though he loses to main character Heero, he is pretty awesome and has earned the title of The Lightning Count.
Lucrezia Noin is also incredibly notable in this category. She's a Plugger, through and through, yet is often almost outright stated to have been holding back whenever Zechs is around. Combined with the fact that she's always a tech level or three below the enemynote In an Aries when the enemies are Gundams, in a Taurus when everyone else around her are in Gundams or brand-new-generations-ahead-mobile-suits, and the fact that Noin always survives without being taken out of the fightnote Beyond her first appearance, anyhow... and you have a pilot who might as well be the most skilled character in the damned show.
There's also Treize Khushrenada, who goes into battle near the end of the series with a straight copy of the by then hopelessly obsolete Tallgeese. He duels Wufei's upgraded Altron Gundam and more than holds his own, to the point that he only lost because he threw the fight. On the other hand, Wufei's Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy personality flat out prevented him from using his own Gundam to its full potential, acknowledging Treize's mech's limitations and refusing to use his Dragons. He insisted on fighting Treize on no less than equal ground.
Gundam X's Big Bad duo, the Frost brothers, often serve the role as Pluggers. Garrod is mostly a steamroller, albeit an incredibly adaptable one. There's also Lancerow Dowell, the resident Char Clone.
The Ace Pilot is Mu La Flaga, who holds his own against genetically-engineered Coordinators in Bigger Stick mobile suits even though he himself is an unmodified Natural piloting either made-of-cardboard mobile armors and fighter jets or hand-me-down mecha. Kira Yamato, though he could probably beat the rest of the entire cast single-handedly, relies more on top-of-the-line mecha and inborn natural ability.
Mu's rival, Rau Le Creuset is a Sniper, who can take on more or less any member of the cast, including Kira. His final ride, ZGMF-X 13 A Providence, plays directly to his strengths, allowing him to strike from a distance with his Attack Drones.
Shinn seems to use Bushwhacker tactics when using Force or Blast Impulse, and switches to Steamroller ones when using Sword Impulse or the eponymous Destiny G.
Athrun is a Plugger, which causes people to doubt his skill compared to Kira or Shinn (despite him having defeated both of them at various points) because Athrun can spend an entire battle finding an enemy Gundam and dueling with it, while Kira and Shinn start tearing apart grunts left and right. This makes Shinn in particular think Athrun is far inferior to him because Shinn's personal kill count is might higher, only for Athrun to soundly stomp him when they fight later on. Though in Destiny Athrun's skills do take a nosedive when he's fighting someone he's doesn't want to, such as Orb forces or Kira.
Not to be outdone, the Cosmic Era has its own share of side stories with aces to show off, such as Sven Cal Bayan, who seems to share Char's indirect steamroller manoeuvres and Edward "the Ripper" Harrelson, who was a very close combat focused steamroller, even before the Earth Alliance got mobile suits. One character of note here, is Shiho Hahnenfuss, the only MSV pilot to have had an appearance before the MSV were even made (first seen in episode 48 of SEED). The few appearances of her indicate that she's a steamroller and she's crossed swords at least once with EAF ace Rena Imelia.
Setsuna F. Seiei is a decided Steamroller in the first season, what with even being willing to throw any of his seven blades at the enemy to get a chance at them. He's arguably mixed with a Bushwhacker in the second season, but still retains his 'suicidal attack' method.
Graham Aker is also an excellent example of a steamroller from the same show, as he is capable of taking one of the most screwed-over and patched-together units ever with only a single melee weapon, and wiping out a vastly superior opponent in his final fight of the season. Admittedly, he did this at the expense of his own unit, but hey. A win is a win.
Then there's the series' resident Ax-Crazy mercenary Ali Al-Saachez: A man who has been able to duke it out against Exia with a near-Ace Custom Enact, for starters. And this is before he hjiacked one of the Throne Gundams, and way before he Curb Stomped 00 and Seravee simultaneously with the Arche.
Flit Asuno matures into one by the end of his arc, and he continues to be Badass throughout the series, even as he ages.
We also have Woolf Enneacle in the first and second arcs, notable for making X-Rounders look like idiots despite not being one himself.
The preeminent example here is Asem "Super Pilot" Asuno. Like Woolf, not an X-Rounder, but by the end of his arc he is unquestionably the most skilled pilot in the series, only failing to beat his opponent when faced with a massive tech difference.
The antagonist side has the Gallete brothers, Desil and Zeheart. Desil is more of an Ax-Crazy steamroller, while Zeheart is one of the few pilots in the series who can fight Asemu one-on-one and not expect to be toasted.
The Marvel version of G.I. Joe had several ace pilots on both sides. Ace (Definite steamroller, going straight at Wild Weasel's nose at the end of their first match, and winning by detonating weapons dangerously close to him in their most recent match), Slipstream, Wild Bill (For helicopters instead of fighter planes), and Maverick come to mind for the Joes. Wild Weasel (Bushwhacker/plugger, likely only a plugger due to the toughness of the Cobra Rattler) was one for Cobra.
Arrowsmith is about the title character's gradual growth into one in a fantasy version of World War One.
Han Solo flies around in what seems like a junky ship, hardly able to fly, and yet he manages to evade and confuse Imperial fleets, while wittily insulting C-3PO and flirting up the Princess. The Millennium Falcon is often referenced as one of the better in the galaxy: it looks like a scrap heap because Han believes functionality is more important than looks. But regardless of the upgrades, the fact that Han outflies fighters in a transport remains very impressive.
Luke Skywalker, who has a Death Star to his credit.
Anakin, who was outflying professional fighter pilots by the time he was 9!
Wedge Antilles one-ups Luke: He has two Death Stars on his plane. (Luke was doing something more important during the second one, but nonetheless.) Wedge's first silhouette is because he attacked the place and lived to tell about it, something that can only be claimed by two other people: Luke Skywalker and Keyan Farlander, both of whom are The Hero (the latter is the Featureless Protagonist of the X-Wing video games) and both of whom are alsoForce-sensitive. Wedge really does deserve some Badass Normal points here. Aside from the two Death Stars he also has so many fighter kills that his ground crew chief switched to painting on kill marks for whole squadrons instead of single ships because he ran out of room on the X-Wing's flank.
The Right Stuff has gobs of them, not just the Mercury astronauts and Mr. Ace Pilot, Chuck Yeager himself, but peripheral characters such as Slick and Scott Crossfield. They were doing stuff back in the Fifties that would make Travis Pastrana wet his pants even today. Made even more awesome because it's all true.
Hell, Pancho Barnes, the lady who owns the bar that Yeager frequents, was doing that stuff back in the 1920s.
Top Gun may be the quintessential modern Ace Pilot film, featuring the eponymous advanced flight combat school that you don't even get into unless you're already "the best of the best". Iceman in particular is described as a Steamroller. To paraphrase Goose, he just stays on you and harries you until you make a mistake. Viper and Jester at one point collaborate as a Plugger and Bushwhacker/Sniper respectively, with Viper drawing Maverick off while Jester sneaks up on him from behind. Maverick doesn't really have any single style since he flies almost entirely on instinct, even stating at one point, "You think, you're dead."
Lost in Space - Major Don West gets assigned to the expedition because of his piloting skills (and problems with authority). Bonus points because the General who assigns Major West to the expedition is none other than Mark Goddard... the original Major West from the TV series! (The movie features at least two other actors from the TV show. Angela Cartwright, who played Penny Robinson, was one of the reporters at the unveiling of the Jupiter 2. Nobody could have failed to notice June Lockheart, who played Maureen Robinson, as Principal Cartwright.)
Captain Steven Hiller in Independence Day, who managed to take out an alien fighter ship surrounded by an impenetrable force field using some tricky flying and his parachute, in a dogfight that destroyed the entire rest of his squadron. Later, he pilots another alien fighter ship in execution of a plan that would lead to the destruction of a mothership a quarter the size of the moon, and containing probably several thousand colony ships and the vast majority of the alien race.
Amber of Sucker Punch in the dream sequences. She not only pilots bombers, but she has also piloted a Mini-Mecha.
Frantisek Slama and Karel Vojtisek in Dark Blue World, a Czech movie about Czech pilots serving in RAF during World War II.
Red Tails: Lightning and Easy are the best pilots in the squadron, but everyone is a fighter pilot.
Ripcord from G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, despite supposedly being U.S. Army Special Forces rather than a pilot (Handwaved early on by a mention of him scoring really high in a flight training program, and wanting all along to go into the Air Force). He's even openly referred to as "Ace" once or twice by other characters.
Wash from Serenity. But then, he is a leaf on the wind.
The Great Waldo Pepper: Most of the main characters, but the German ace Ernst Kessler is the one they all are trying to match.
There were plenty of "air adventure" series for boys written as propaganda during WWII (and a few during the '30s). Dave Dawson, Red Randall, Lucky Terrell, and A Yank in the RAF were just a few.
The X-Wing Series in the Star Wars Expanded Universe delves quite deeply into the fighter pilots of the Rebels/New Republic, as led by Wedge Antilles. The first of the Wraith Squadron sub-series has the New Meat pilots ask Wes Janson and Wedge who was the best pilot they ever flew with: the two of them reminisce at length about skilled pilots who died due to bad luck, and others like Skywalker who had incredible skills but moved on to other things. Wes concludes that the only real way to objectively measure pilot skill is total kill count, making Wedge Antilles the best pilot in history. Wedge, naturally, demurs. All sorts of pilot types, especiallyThe Ace, make appearances, and there are discussions of the five-kill rule, becoming an "instant ace", rivalries between pilots, and many more. Demonstrations of styles include:
Wes Janson - Definite Sniper, though with better dogfighting skills than the typical Sniper. He's a sniper with any ranged weapon, in or out of the cockpit.
Wedge Antilles - Most likely Steamroller. Against most opponents, he's simply too good to be nailed down to a particular tactic, but when the enemy has him boxed up, he tends to get increasingly daring. Further, his save of Luke, in the original movie, is pure steamroller. He's noticed his own Plot Armor, and at the start of the series the kill silhouettes painted on his X-Wing include two Death Stars and an alarming number of other big ships. He's shot down so many starfighters by that point that a mechanic apologizes for not being able to fit them all into the space allotted, and had to render some in red, marking a squadron's worth of kills. Being Wedge, it makes no difference to him how his kills are grouped; he never brags about being one of the best pilots in history.
He's shown to have a strange grasp on what his opponents are thinking and what they'll do - before they do it. It's powerful enough that he once calls it "precognitive", though immediately after that he chalks it up to pure pattern-recognition gained through endless hours of experience. Wedge also has the ability to think incredibly fast in high stress situations, taking the circumstances in and making a complicated decision in a second or less. This has nothing to do with The Force.
Wedge has a counterpart in his brother-in-law Worthy Opponent Baron Fel, who is the page image. Fel is badass enough that it's canon he reestablishes the Empire...
Tycho Celchu - Probably Bushwhacker. His flying style is described by a Force-sensitive opponent (who is also a phenomenal pilot) as being incredibly complex, with him constantly thinking of ways to box in the enemy, anticipating his moves, and potential paths out of the line of fire and back to a position behind the enemy. Wedge once says, "You see a target coming in, you see him launch missiles, choose one vector for him and fire in that direction. One time in ten you'll choose right and you'll vape him. Unless you're Tycho Celchu, when it's one time in four."
Derek "Hobbie" Klivian is a pilot known for his remarkable skill at surviving, despite runs of bad luck; few of his tactics are seen, but his ability to keep alive, turning even lethal shots into hits that allow him to eject and recover, may be evidence of being of Plugger.
There are plenty of other pilots, but those illustrate the styles best. Another EU book, Death Star, makes it clear that Darth Vader doesn't really fit any category, except perhaps the double-secret probationary Sniperollbushplugwhacker. He was able to make the second best Imperial pilot, pictured above, who is good enough to make a decent protagonist pilot feel like a child who can barely walk trying to keep up with a champion distance runner, look like a clueless farmboy. Casually. Without using a targeting computer, which, the protagonist believes, is outright impossible. The Force—and to be completely accurate, thirty-plus years of experience and ageless cybernetic components—helps pilots, clearly. Another thing to take into account is just how much of Vader's body is cybernetic. Think about how a pilot experiences extreme movement of blood from the extremities to the brain during strenuous maneuvers. Now think about a pilot without extremities, whose body doesn't have the same necessities as a typical human. And give him the power of the force.
Special mention goes to Kell Tainer, an ex-mechanic whose expertise stems from detailed knowledge of his fighter's systems and capabilities. On several occasions, he can perform on-the-fly analysis of damage to his or other pilots' fighters, can direct precision strikes on enemy capital ships, and push the technical limits of his ship as far as it'll go. His most noteworthy performance is attempting to ram an allied fighter out of a terminal dive; although he failed to save her, his sheer nerve and improvisation earned him awards.
In the X-Wing Series' ninth book, Starfighters of Adumar, the titular planet is a Planet of Hats where Ace Pilots are the elite of society. But since it's also a Proud Warrior Race which sees no point in simulator practice, and the attrition rates of new pilots are appalling, none of them are very skilled. This means that when the New Republic and the Imperial Remnant send their best pilots alive there on a diplomatic function, said pilots are all but worshiped. And subject to endless attempts to kill them for their status.
Simon Black, the Australian hero of the 1950's 'Boys Own'-type adventure series by Ivan Southall.
Benjamin St. John of the Descent novels is described as having the potential to be the "greatest pilot of the century", which he has not quite achieved. But by the second book, with all the insane wacky piloting he does, no one's doubting the truth behind that statement. Most of his success lies in the fact that he has a habit of taking ludicrous risks and somehow making it out alive (he once, without any propelling power left in his plane, glided into a Martian sandstorm to evade his pursuers).
In the Larry Bond novel Red Phoenix set during a Second Korean War, one USAF F-16 pilot gets over 13 North Korean aircraft before being shot down. He is rescued by South Korean Special Forces, survives the novel and gets the girl.
In The Sixth Battle, there is a discussion of ace pilots among the pilots of Langley, some who get the title themselves.
In Dragonriders of Pern, Anne McCaffrey said that she intentionally modeled the personalities of many of her dragonriders on the Ace Pilot archetype, and for very much the same reasons - they're engaged in an incredibly dangerous business where quick reflexes are critical for survival, said business is critical for the survival of humanity, and the risk of horrible death looms over every flight.
In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000 novel Double Eagle, every single protagonist is one of these. Oskar Viltry is a rare bomber-flying version Though later he switches to fighters.
BattleTech has several Ace Pilots, the most famous of which being Kai Allard-Liao, Champion of Solaris, and Natasha Kerensky, The Black Widow.
Lacuna has Alex "Jazz" Aharoni, who comes aboard the ship as the best pilot the Israeli air-force could muster.
Mack Maloney's Wingman series features a number of Ace Pilots among the protagonists, but especially Hawk Hunter, the title character.
Mary in It Can't Happen Here. Galvanized by her husband's murder and her father's incarceration, she joins the Corpo Women's Flying Corps and trains as a bomber pilot. She is later assigned to escort District Commissioner Swan's plane to Washington. She crashes her plane into Swan's, killing Swan, his aides, and herself.
In The Flight Engineer the protagonist, Commander Peter Raeder, has seven confirmed kills to his name which makes him the first ace of the Commonwealth/Mollie conflict. Unfortunately, in the same engagement where he scored his last four kills he also lost his hand, ending his career as a fighter pilot.
The Wild Blue and the Grey is an alternate history novel in which the Confederate States of America participate in WWI on the Western Front (having been helped to independence by the French and British). The protagonist is a Cherokee pilot (Oklahoma is also independent and allied with the Confederacy) with the Confederate Air Corps named Amos Ninekiller; after he starts racking up kills the press starts hoping he'll actually score nine so that they can write a puntastic headline. William Faulkner is a pilot in the same unit.
Orion First Encounter : Erin becomes this, despite still being a young student, via a computer that rewires her brain.
Starbuck was played straight as the best pilot in the Fleet, with the kill count and retina-detaching moves to match (including locking the wings of her viper with Apollo's to bring him home when it lost power - in the middle of a battle!). Also, plenty of pilots will claim to be able to fly anything with wings. But how many of them could climb inside something's dead body and fly its brain?
Starbuck may be the Fleet's Top Gun, but Apollo is second only to her, even pulling off a few Starbuck-worthy moves in his own right when an injury puts her out of commission.
There was also an episode dealing with the Cylon ace, Scar, who's a Bushwacker/Sniper using his wingman as a decoy. Scar had one big difference from every other Ace on this page: he couldn't die, at least not permanently. He was resurrected and reloaded into fighter bodies countless times, until he seemingly had too much experience to be beaten at all. Sure, he had countless kills, but he himself was killed a significant number of times - and every time he died, he got angrier and angrier.
Most of the original series Battlestar Galactica pilots were these: Apollo, Starbuck, Boomer, Jolly, Greenbean, Cree, Sheeba. If you weren't a Bridge Bunny, you were probably an Ace Pilot. Justified in that only the very best pilots survived the destruction of the fleet.
Stringfellow Hawke is a helicopter ace several times over in the eponymous chopper, including:
4 Cuban MiG-19s in one go.
Two WWII bombers, on separate occasions, the latter being missile armed.
Another version of his own chopper.
An experimental attack chopper, known as "HX-1".
A Soviet Kalmar/"Delta III" class SSBN.
A lot of MD 500 look-a-likes.
Dominic Santini almost certainly got more than five in WW2.
The Blackadder Goes Forth incarnation of Lord Flashheart is a parody of the trope.
Stargate Atlantis has John Sheppard as the quintessential Ace Pilot who can fly anything and isn't afraid of proving it. He is seen flying a helicopter, Puddlejumpers, F-302s and a Dart. And a hollow asteroid. And, once or twice, a city.
Jack O'Neill from Stargate SG-1 isn't so bad himself. Even though he transferred from fighters to special ops a long time ago, he hasn't lost his touch and gets to demonstrate it a couple times, most notably in the opening episode of Season 7 in which he needs to make a hyperspace microjump to place himself inside an enemy superweapon's shields, level out before crashing into the superweapon, and then take out the small thermal exhaust port, while dodging enemy fighters on the way in and out. He labels it "the wackiest plan we've ever come up with," then proceeds to execute it perfectly.
Hoban Washburne of Firefly is a genius pilot who is said to be able to "thread a needle" with a Firefly-class freighter—and the skills he's shown backs it up. Because Serenity is completely unarmed (except for its destructive engine exhaust), Wash is restricted to playing as a plugger, with emphasis on outmaneuvering and evading his opponents instead of defeating them in a straightforward confrontation.
Greg "Pappy" Boyington from Black Sheep Squadron, both on the show and in real-life was an ace pilot in World War II, having shot down between two to six Japanese planes while he was with the Flying Tigers and 22 more with the Marine Corps.
In Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Buck is one of these, performing dogfighting with 25th century spaceships, as most pilots in this era rely completely upon their combat computers.
Meanwhile Ivanova got an Offscreen Moment of Awesome in this regard in "Believers", taking on something on the order of two dozen raider ships by herself in defense of a passenger liner. When she got back, she laughed it off to Garibaldi as an uneventful flight. Garibaldi remarked that her fighter would be in the shop for at least a week.
Several of the main characters were portrayed as pilots of some skill. Sinclair, Sheridan, Ivanova, and Garibaldi all had Ace Custom starfuries featuring distinctive Nose Art. Marcus and Lennier both piloted White Stars through numerous battles. Londo Molari bragged about being such a pilot, and on one occasion got to handily prove it in a shuttle dodging Anti-Air missiles like it was no big deal (he could be extra daring since he already knew how he would die and it wasn't for years). G'Kar led a patrol of Narn fighers to Z'Ha'Dum and was the only one to survive a battle with the Shadows. Even some of the villains qualified, such as Mr. Bester, who had his own elite telepath fighter squadron, the Black Omega Squadron, as his own pet project. Sinclair is openly stated to be one, having flown a starfury in various battles of the Earth-Minbari War and not only survived but killed a discrete number of Minbari fighters.
In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Commander Riker was stated (and briefly shown) to be the best pilot on board. (Mainly because he's the only pilot on board. Or at least the only one capable of flying the Enterprise on manual. Riker's much-maligned joystick in Star Trek: Insurrection is actually a faster, more precise, and simpler way to control the ship than typing commands into the computer (or however the helmsman normally controls the ship).
Captain Picard is actually an extremely good pilot as well, though it's shown more subtly. He's been known to take the helm himself in situations where extremely precise maneuvering is needed to get the ship out of danger ("Booby Trap", "In Theory"), talked an inexperienced pilot through a difficult maneuver in order to avoid a crash ("Coming of Age"), and most notably developed the Picard Maneuver ("The Battle") which exploits the fact that a ship traveling at FTL velocities is invisible.
Star Trek: Enterprise Helmsmen Travis Mayweather is said to be an expert pilot having grown up on ships, though in the series he does not get to use this talent on screen much.
Captain Archer is also shown to be a highly skilled pilot, having been one of the test pilots for the early NX Program prototypes ("First Flight").
Jake Cutter from Tales of the Gold Monkey is one of the Plugger variety (considering his plane is an unarmed Grumman Goose flying boat, he's rather obligated to be). He is also a literal Ace, having five confirmed victories flying against the Japanese when he was with the Flying Tigers.
Howlin' Mad Murdock from The A-Team was most certainly one of these: he flew a small jet, a jumbo jet, a biplane, many small passenger planes, a jetpack, and untold numbers of helicopters over the course of the series. Other characters (especially the colonels and general chasing after the A-Team) acknowledged Murdock's mad skills. Whether he's a Steamroller, a Bushwhacker, or a Plugger depends on the episode. Given his Craziness, it makes (relative) sense for him to be all three.
The Alternate Rimmer in Red Dwarf is so much this trope that they even named him Ace. "Smoke me a Kipper...!"
Harmon Rabb, Jr. in JAG. Third generation Naval Aviator.
Subverted in the Tenerife special. Captain Van Zanten was KLM's most experienced and decorated pilot, and was regarded with such esteem that he served as KLM's spokesman and appeared in all of KLM's print adverts. It was this preceding reputation — as well as the fact that he was the pilot who had certified his first officer on the Tenerife flight — that probably factored into the crew's reluctance to stop him from impatiently taking off from the crowded, foggy airport without ATC clearance. This resulted in the destruction of two jumbo jets, the loss of 500+ lives, and the worst aviation disaster in history. Fun fact: when KLM found out that one of their jets crashed in Tenerife, they tried to contact Captain Van Zanten to have him clean up the PR mess. They then realized that he was the pilot involved in the crash.
Perhaps played straight with Captain Sullenberger and the Flight 1549 crew. Considering the panicky reactions we have seen from even the blameless flight crews so far in the series, the Danger Deadpan demeanor with which the 1549 pilots handle their situation is almost surreal.
A couple of other episodes on Eastern Flight 401 and United Flight 173 also show how having an ace pilot can be a liability instead of an asset. Flight crews are now trained to work together as a team, thanks to these accidents.
Zenna, Prince Samuel Race, Mac, Cabin, Rotor, Kara, and Larson from Dino Attack RPG.
The Star Wars d20 roleplaying game has always had some kind of Ace prestige class. The revised d20 edition had two: the Ace Pilot and the Jedi Ace. And since the Ace Pilot had 10 levels and the Jedi Ace had 5, the really dedicated Force-sensitive pilot character could max out both.
Ace of Aces was a game which simulated combat between two World War I biplanes using only two matching books, each filled with views of the opponent, seen from the cockpit of the player's plane. The players selected their next move, exchanged numbers and ended up on a new page showing the result. If a player choose badly, this could be a shot of incoming machine-gun fire.
d20 Future's "Dogfighter" advanced class.
Aeronautica Imperialis has pilot skill ratings used to determine the chances of a pilot pulling off an impossible maneuver (e.g. flying at '0' altitude, normally a crash for a non-ace pilot, and not dying). 'Ace' pilots (those who have scored five kills) have a better pilot skill rating (generally 3+ or 2+ instead of 4+ or 3+) and thus a better chance of not dying. And then you have the Nightwing squadron of four planes that shot down sixty six hostile fighters in one engagement. Technically impossible under the AI rules because a Nightwing has enough ammo to down only nine fighters before being forced to disengage (and you'd have to be really lucky to pull it off anyway), but possible using the Apocalypse rules.
Jonathan. Played with, in that he also gets good land units, at the cost of poor naval units and infantry.
Robyn. Taken to extremes in that she loves staring at the sky, and hates pollution. (Small irony then that jets are frankly awful for the environment. They don't run on captured sunbeams.)
The Wing Commander series always has you play an ace pilot, and furthermore, features a group of different aces that you will fly with during missions, each of which has different temperaments and tactics in battle. Some games even put personalized Aces on the enemy side, each of which can generally be described as conforming to one of the types above.
The Aggressors were the founders of mecha combat, and are still some of the best mecha pilots in the game. Also The Federation ran the School, an experiment in turning children into ace pilots - the only four to survive were Ouka, Seolla, Arado, and Latooni, also some of the best pilots in the game (though you only get Ouka for one level). Also anyone with a last name that ends in -stein (Branstein, Garstein). Which makes Elzam (a Branstein and an Aggressor) wicked awesome.
There's also the ATX team in which during the first game Kyosuke, Excellen and Bullet are at the same level if not surpassing the Aggressors to the point where Sanger Zonvolt (another Aggressor and arguably most Bad Ass in the OG verse so far) believes they have a better chance of beating the aliens than HE does.
In fact nearly everyone on your team is an Ace Pilot either by insane skill (ATX, Aggressors, Axel, Irm and Ring), developed Telekinesis abilities (Ryusei, Aya, Kusuha and company) or by being the only pilots capable of operating unique and extremely powerful machines (Masaki, Lune, Kouta, Folka etc) Really the reason the OG group is so unbeatable is because they have nearly every Ace in the EFA in one group.
Also, in many of the Super Robot Wars games, once a pilot racks up 50 or more kills in a playthrough, they're given the status of "Ace", which gives various advantages depending on the game and character, ranging from slightly higher starting morale to all manner of dodge and damage bonuses. Super Robot Wars W takes this even further with W (pronounced Double) Ace status upon reaching 100 kills, and gives an even more dramatic bonus.
Project Sylpheed, Freespace, various Star Wars games, face it, you WILL be playing as an ace pilot in any space shooter. In Freespace, you're not awarded an Ace medal until you've scored sixty kills: if it were five, you could be an Ace after your first flight. Double- and Triple-Ace medals also exist for reaching 150 and 350 kills.
Ace Combat Zero introduced its own ace style classification based on a simple Karma Meter: the Knight Ace only kills the targets he is ordered to kill, sparing the neutral ones (civilian facilities, damaged enemy planes, etc.), even though that brings him little in terms of cash; the Mercenary Ace kills everything he can get his sights locked on and gains money for each kill; and the Soldier Ace finds a compromise between his conscience and material needs. Gameplay-wise, the Mercenary gets to buy better planes early on but has to face tougher enemy aces, while the Knight fights less aggressive enemies and receives heartwarming presents from civilians he just liberated. Some prime examples of Snipers would be Schnee Squadron, whose main tactics include electronic jamming and long-range Phoenix missiles.
Bonus points to Ace Combat 04 for giving the actual definition of the term.
The character Atton Rand seems to be the token "ace pilot" character, particularly in terms of personality. However, under his control, the ships you travel in during the game seem to crash an uncanny number of times... Kreia and Bao-dur both comment on this as the game goes on. According to Atton, the only reason the lot of you are still standing is because he is a good enough pilot to land a half-exploded shuttle instead of slamming it nose-first into a hill.
In the first game, being an excellent pilot is Carth Onasi's Informed Ability. He at least only crashed once, and it was more like a controlled emergency landing after one of the Hawk's engines is blown out by the Star Forge's defenses. Between that, and getting safely off Taris during an orbital bombardment, Carth's on-screen record is better than poor Atton's. Although in all fairness the fact you survived getting shot down either time on Telos or survived the weird phenomena on Malachor V was because of Atton's brilliant effort in getting his burning up ship to a relatively safe landing spot. Or so he says.
Freelancer is crawling with them. Trent (your character), unsurprisingly is one of the best, out of everybody in the game. Literally, considering the premise of this game.
In Ace Online (A.K.A. Air Rivals), players with enough PvP kills earn ranks and titles, one of which is "ace." All of the listed piloting styles exist in this game in some shape or form, although every player must utilize each of them for different situations and types of enemies.
Crimson Skies had the main character Nathan Zachary, and his crew of Ace Air Pirates.
Nathan Zachary: When you hit the ground, tell'em Nathan Zachary sent ya!
In Infinite Space, you'll find a few recruitables with ace piloting skills, and you'll notice how they can turn the tide of a battle when used right. Most notable of these come in Act 2 (Namely Mihhaelo Luka and Volo Naturo), since in Act 1, only Gadina has the skill while Johano Sceptro and Brava Soneto only have some close stats.
Strangely, Ultima I, as part of the main plot, requires the player to launch into space and kill 20 enemy ships, thereby becoming a "Space Ace."
Jeff 'Joker' Moreau, although the player is almost never exposed to his competition. In the first game, he dives from orbit to drop an armoured vehicle on a landing strip 30 metres long and then pull up to escape back into orbit, while under continuous heavy fire, one one motion. The Normandy is not damaged. Oh, and the very minimum 'safe' landing zone to make a drop in, according to Alliance regulations? 100 metres. Joker is quite literally the best pilot in the Alliance. Notable in that his craft isn't a fighter like is common for the trope, but a 100+ meter frigate. And he still makes it do tricks that one would expect more from a fighter craft.
Joker: It takes skill to bank in a vacuum. Don't think it doesn't.
Mass Effect 3 adds shuttle pilot Steve Cortez, who claims the UT-47 flies like a brick. Yet he still wins dogfights with Cerberus gunships flying one. In the Citadel DLC, a rogue mercenary gang steals the Normandy SR-2. While Shepard infiltrates the ship, Cortez has to prevent it from jumping to FTL by literally blocking it; repeatedly flying within a 30-degree cone of its line of travel will trip the jump safeties and keep the mercenaries from fleeing. It also exposes Cortez to the SR-2's formidable main weapons, so he has to continuously duck in and out of the line of fire, keeping up with the frigate's course changes and dodging skyscrapers. Cortez accomplishes this feat in a taxi.
Jake Logan from Tachyon: The Fringe. He's established as already being an experienced mercenary fighter pilot at the start of the game, creating a minor quandary as to how to frame the tutorial. The solution ended up being to have Logan evaluating a newly hired piloting instructor.
Broch Landry from the comic Good Ship Chronicles is perhaps the greatest pilot alive, but also dangerously unstable and prone to snap necks at the slightest provocation.
Many of the characters in Angels2200 are the character type, if not specifically 5-enemy-pilots-killed aces.
Retrieved a package and two Freelancers in freefall. In a city. While the building they'd just jumped off of was collapsing next to them. UNDER FIRE.
Navigated an Asteroid Thicket while evading enemy fire, deploying a Freelancer team, and eventually saving the Mother of Invention from a tactical nuke while outracing the blast radius.
Performed a VTOL landing out of freefall from flight altitudes. In seconds. The maneuver was so delicate that she needed an AI to give her the countdown to deceleration burn with her reaction time factored in.
SWAT Kats: T-Bone and Razor seem to favor a mix of Steamroller and Plugger styles. An example of an Ace with a back-seater - T-Bone's the pilot, Razor's the gunner/weapons officer.
Baloo from TaleSpin is a situational bushwhacker/plugger; in open sky, he bushwhacks like a mofo via ridiculous aerial acrobatics, in mountains and cities he plugs like a bastard through terrain manipulation, both supplemented by occasional usage of Abnormal Ammo - the only option available to him, as he takes on waves of fightercraft with a cargo plane. Unfortunately, he's about as business-savvy as the idiots who caused The Great Video Game Crash of 1983. Perpetual Poverty to the hilt, followed by a buy-out he wasn't even aware of until the new owner unlocked his door with her own set of keys.
Launchpad of DuckTales and Darkwing Duck fame is an excellent pilot capable of flying anything. Landing it, on the other hand... In the comics continuation of Darkwing Duck Launchpad even claimed he could fly the Ranger Plane in a Cutaway Gag. Gadget (not a bad pilot herself) disagreed.
Most of these are from the two World Wars, for obvious reasons. Some, however, are from the Arab-Israeli Conflict, the Korean War and The Vietnam War. We have yet to get an ace from the current century, as most current conflicts don't involve air combat. And the few that do involve air combat have been Curb Stomp Battles, where the winning side massively outnumbers the loser, leaving far too few kills to go around for anybody to become an ace.
The Trope Namer was Frenchman Céléstin Adolphe Pégoud, the second pilot to perform a looping before World War 1. After he shot down his fifth German plane he was lauded in the French papers as an "ace", which at the time was a general term for someone who had done something heroic or noteworthy. British and American journalists who saw this then generalized that a pilot qualified as an "ace" if he shot down five planes. Pégoud himself racked up another air victory before being shot down himself in 1915.
The most famous Real Life ace would be RittmeisterBaron Manfred von Richthofen, theRed Baron. He is theace. In fact, he is usually referred to as the ''ace of aces'', since ace simply wasn't enough (the term "ace" in WWI was derived from anyone who shot down at least five aircraft. Richthofen was officially credited with 80, though he may have downed over 100). Quite similar to Canadian ace Billy Bishop; another flyer whose flight skills were not that impressive but whose marksmanship more than made up for them. Richthofen was killed in 1918. Considered a Worthy Opponent, the Allies gave him a full military funeral.
Richthofen was a real-life example of the Sniper/Bushwhacker. According to his wingmen, his flying skills were not vastly superior, and he considered his aircraft merely a means to bring his guns to bear. At that point he would deploy his real skills: superb marksmanship and a gift for selecting targets which were not aware of him. At least, not until bullet holes appeared on their planes...
He is perhaps best known for having taken the flamboyant step of painting hisaircraft red, sacrificing the element of surprise for instant recognition from wing mates. Despite camouflage being the official rule for aircraft, it was permitted soon enough for other squadrons to have their machines painted with their own unique squadron colors.
Manfred's younger brother, Lothar von Richthofen was also an ace pilot with 40 kills. He survived the war, became a commercial pilot and died in a crash in 1922.
A very notable earlier one, of whom Richthofen was a pupil, was Oswald Boelcke. Boelcke's biggest claim to fame is the Dicta Boelcke, the first manual of air-to-air combat and still relevant today. He was a mixture of a Steamroller and a Bushwhacker, the Dicta holds that a pilot should first seek to achieve surprise or attack from a superior position, then get into combat and stick with it until the other guy is flaming wreckage on the ground. Boelcke was killed in action in 1916.
Ditto for Max Immelman, who was a contemporary of Boelcke, was the first pilot to be awarded the Pour le Mérite, Germany's highest medal, (which was nicknamed the "Blue Max" in his honor during WWI) and was an inspiration to Richthofen. And having an aerobatic maneuver (in fact one of the basic ones) named after you doesn't hurt opinions, either. Immelman too was killed in action in 1916.
The real life ace with the highest kill count was German Erich "Bubi" Hartmann, with 352 victories credited. He felt his biggest achievement was never losing a wingman. Hartmann was the classic Bushwacker. He once described his own flying style as "Dive - Attack - Run Away - Coffee Break". He also stated that only damage his plane ever suffered in air combat was from destroyed enemy planes' debris. This was in large part because of his style of fighting: He would fly as close as possible before firing. He was known to have said "If you wait until the other plane fills the entire window of the cockpit, you don't waste a single round."
There is a theory that he was able to achieve such a killcount only due to amphetamines — which were invented by Germans specially for the military pilots — due to him being on the front only for a relatively short time, but having a very tight schedule. His logs show as many as eight sorties on a certain day. While each sortie in WWII rarely lasted longer than a couple of hours, those planes didn't really have "power steering", and air combat is one of the most tiring activities known to man. Two sorties per day was the par for the course, three were somewhat tiring, four were a chore, five a burden and six a nigh impossible. Eight sorties are widely considered achievable only by using stimulants.
Hartmann fought on the Eastern Front, and attributed his number of victories to the fact that he was often tasked with interception of air-to-ground assault planes flown by novice pilots who were taught to stay in close formations and rarely if ever took evasive actions. See also the Japanese training philosophy explained below as Soviets shared this attitide. However, he also shot down seven U.S.A.A.F. planes engaged in bombing raids on the Romanian oil fields of Ploesti.
When Hitler was personally awarding the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds (the third-highest award in Nazi Germany), Hartmann refused to hand over his pistol to the SS bodyguards, on the grounds that it was absurd for Hitler to be giving him a medal if he didn't trust him. He did, however, take off the pistol belt and hang it alongside his hat when meeting with Hitler.
Roald Dahl, better known as a bestselling author, was officially credited with 5 kills for England during World War II, but possibly scored more.
Hans-Ulrich Rudel, possibly the most deadly man in an aircraft. He got the Knight's Cross with Golden Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds (an award ranked second only to the Grand Cross of the Iron Cross), the only man who got that. Responsible for destroying over 600 vehicles, along with sinking a battleship, two cruisers, and four armored trains. Not to mention taking on fighters in his Stuka - which was very poor at air-to-air combat - and winning. He is credited with shooting down nine enemy aircraft, being one of the few pilots to reach the criteria for being considered a fighter ace while flying a bomber. (This was admittedly helped by differing aircraft design theory; no such animal as a light bomber exists in modern aircraft.) He apparently provided design advice for the A-10 Thunderbolt II.
René Paul Fonck, allied ace of aces in World War I. He claimed over 140 victories, and received credit for 75, falling just short of The Red Baron's 80. His 75 confirmed victories exceed the tallies of any allied WWII pilot, making him the all time allied ace of aces. He was a combo Sniper/Bushwhacker, known to stalk a target before taking it down with a single short machine gun burst. In his own words: "I put my bullets into the target as if I placed them there by hand."
The Soviet Union had the only real life female aces: Olga Yamshchikova (17 confirmed kills), Lidia Litvyak (12 confirmed, up to 20 rumored) and Katya Budanova (11 confirmed, up to 14 rumored). Litvyak and Budanova were killed in action, while Yamshchikova went to become the USSR's first female jet test pilot.
Ilmari Juutilainen, 94 kills, the top Finnish Air Force ace. Highest scoring ace outside the Luftwaffe. 2 kills on Fokker D.XXI, 36 kills on Brewster Buffalo and 56 kills on Messerschmitt 109G. The first two were highly obsolete when he flew them, and the Brewster Buffalo was never known to be a good airplane at all...though the Finns managed to make them work.
Alexei Maresyev (who, like Bader, had two stumps too). Died on the day of a big memorial service in his honour just for spite.
One British Hurricane pilot, James MacLachan made ace, then lost an arm to enemy fire. With a false arm, he did it again.
Pekka Kokko, Finnish Air Force ace with 12 kills. Lost a leg in air combat and considered to be unfit for combat. What did the Finnish Air Force do? They made him a test pilot!
There are many cases, mostly from World War II, of pilots making "ace in a day" (5 or more on a single sortie). That, for the Americans, usually meant a Medal of Honor. The recordholder was David McCampbell, a USN pilot at Leyte Gulf; nine confirmed and three probable kills in single sortie, a record that remains unequaled. He, however, was already an ace twice over. His wingman, Lt. Roy Rushing, scored 7 victories during the same sortie.
One explanation of this comes from a flaw in the Japanese training system: they used The Spartan Way to produce a small supply of excellent pilots while the Americans used Bigger Is Better to produce ten times as many ''good' pilots. The Americans also rotated their experienced pilots home to act as Obi-Wans to new pilots to give them the benefit of their experience while the Japanese pilots remained in combat to be killed off or become shell shocked seniors. Thus when the second crop of Japanese pilots came out after Midway they were almost untrained compared to their American adversaries, and there were very few skilled veterans still alive to mentor them.
Second highest scoring Finnish Air Force ace, Hans Wind (78 kills), scored "ace in a day" on five separate ocassions - and all within one month! The wingman of Captain Wind was SSgt Nils Katajainen (36 kills). On their last air battle 28 June 1944, they attacked twosome a Soviet air formation of 70+ aircraft and managed it to abandon the bombs. Amazingly, they both survived the feat.
Randy "Duke" Cunningham was an American ace during The Vietnam War, being involved in some of the most known dogfights of that war. He was elected to Congress in 1991. In 2005, he was found guilty of corruption and is currently doing eight years in jail.
Michael Wittmann was a German World War II tank ace, known as "The Black Baron" (stop starin'). He got 138 tanks and 132 anti-tank guns, before being killed by the British Canadians either the British or the Canadians (it's disputed) in 1944.
Otto Carius, yet another German, who scored 202 vehicle kills (including some 60 softskins) on Tiger I, Tiger II and Jagdtiger. He was an pharmacist by his civilian profession. What did he do after WWII? Returned to home and set up a pharmacy store named Tiger-Apotheke!
Eddie Rickenbacker was the American Ace of Aces (most kills) in World War I. His autobiography is one long string of Crowning Moment Of Awesome, all told with a humble, "just the facts", style.
Richard Bong got that title for World War II, getting 40 confirmed kills before it was decided to pull him from the front line. He went into flying test aircraft and died on 6 August 1945. The following day, he shared some front pages with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
It's generally accepted that Bong and his rival, Tommy McGuire (38 confirmed kills), both shot down well over 40 aircraft, and that it's impossible to say who really had the higher score. McGuire died because he was so impatient to catch up with Bong that he took a significant risk during his last battle. About to be pulled from active service too (Bong had already returned to the States), he wanted to make the most of his final mission, so he didn't drop his external tanks before attacking a lone Japanese fighter; this would enable him to continue on the flight and find more enemies to shoot down. Unfortunately, the Japanese pilot was an ace himself, and McGuire, too low and encumbered by his drop tanks, crashed into the jungle.
If we include mission effectiveness and overall success rate in the definition of Ace Pilot, then clearly the leader of the Tuskegee Airmen, Lt. Col. Benjamin O. Davis counts.
Billy Bishop, was the second-highest-scorer for the entire British Empire in World War I. Started out as a Steamroller, then changed to a Bushwacker, which he found to be more effective. The Red Baron considered him the most skilled opponent he ever faced and the Germans called him the Hell's Handmaiden for his lethal effectiveness. He was a crack shot, having been a great marksman as a boy in rural Ontario, and was renowned for his keen eyesight. On the other hand, he was a sub-average pilot, crash-landing numerous planes. His official count is 72 victories, just behind the Red Baron for the entire war, yet there has been lingering controversy about whether he simply made up the details of a solo raid that won him the Victoria Cross, the British Commonwealth's highest military award.
William Barker, another Canadian, is the most decorated serviceman in the history of the entire British Empire. Also won the Victoria Cross, after he was ambushed by 15 German planes, and fought them to a standstill, bringing down three of them before multiple wounds forced him to crash land directly behind Allied lines.
Raymond Collishaw, another Canadian, (must be something in the water, eh?) credited with shooting down 60 aircraft in the First World War, mostly flying triplanes. He supposedly gave away even more kills to bolster the confidence of new pilots. The new pilot would shakily fire a few rounds at a German aircraft, Collishaw would sweep in and fire a quick, efficient burst, and down goes the German. Back on the ground, Collishaw claps the newbie on the back and congratulates him on his first kill.
The highest British scorer, Mick Mannock, was also known for helping his wingmen in this way. He was blind in one eye, and is believed to have cheated on his pilot's exam.
One of the most dangerous roles in WWI air-fighting was to shoot down observation balloons. These were protected by antiaircraft batteries and fighter patrols, and were also explosive as they were filled with hydrogen. Several pilots on both sides, however, gained reputations as balloon-busters. The most famous were Willy Coppens of Belgium (37 kills, including 34 balloons) and Frank Luke of the United States (18 kills, including 14 balloons). All Luke's kills were scored in a mere eight days of flying.
Chuck Yeager - who was also the first man to break the sound barrier. Before he did that, his claim to fame was becoming an Ace in one day, and being among the first American pilots to shoot down a jet. He also scored two of his 11.5 official kills (he actually scored at least one more) by maneuvering two German pilots into a collision. Appropriately enough, his name is an Anglicized version of the German Jaeger ("Hunter"). As far as his style, he was a "steamroller" and a "sniper"; he could and did mix it up with the best of them, but also had almost superhuman eyesight that allowed him to hit at longer range with machine guns than most pilots could with cannons. The latter skill was how he took down a jet in his prop-driven P-51.
James Jabara, the first man to become a "jet ace", getting a total of fifteen kills in the Korean War to add to his one-and-a-half from World War II. Numbers five and six, of two MiG-15s were done with one drop tank stuck on his aircraft. He signed up for a tour in Vietnam in 1966, but was killed in a car crash before deploying.
Saburo Sakai, the highest-scoring surviving ace of the Japanese Navy, had a career filled with Crowning Moments of Awesome. One was his 800-mile flight, in a damaged plane, a bullet hole through his head, which blinded one eye and paralyzed half of his body. Another was surviving a dogfight with sixteen American planes, better than his own, without a single bullet in his aircraft. And a third was the time a terrified enemy pilot bailed out before Sakai had even fired a shot. During that famed flight of survival, he was near to passing out several times, so he took to intentionally aggravating the pain in his wounds to jolt himself wider awake. Upon arriving at his base, he insisted on reporting to his superior officer before getting medical attention. After the war, Sakai became a devout pacifist, swearing that he would never kill anything again, not even an insect. In his autobiography he claimed his true crowning moment of awesome was not shooting down a Dutch airliner, even though it would have been an easy kill, because he saw women and children on board.
Otto Kretschmer was a German WWII U-boat ace who sank 47 ships for a total of 274,333 tons before being captured by the British in March 1941 in an engagement that led to the death of Joachim Schepke, another ace. This was the most tonnage sunk by any U-Boat commander even though Kretchmer missed out on a significant portion of the Battle of the Atlantic. He survived the war.
Günther Prien, another U-Boat ace, who was killed in 1941 attacking a convoy a week before Kretschmer's capture. Before that in 1939, he managed to get publicly praised by Winston Churchill after sneaking into the Royal Navy base at Scapa Flow, sinking a battleship and getting back out before the British worked out what was going on. His closest counterpart in Royal Navy would have been Lieutenant Max Horton, who navigated his submarine to Constantinople harbour to sink a Ottoman Turkish battleship anchored there in WWI. He was promoted to Admiral in WWII.
Otto Hersing commanded U 21, which on 5 September 1914 became the first German submarine to sink an enemy warship (the cruiser HMS Pathfinder). He went on to sink two British battleships, HMS Triumph and HMS Majestic, in the Dardanelles in 1916.
Otto Weddigen, captain of U 9, sank three British armoured cruisers in 75 minutes on 22 September 1914. He went on to sink another one on 24 October, but died on 18 March 1915 when U 29 was sunk by being rammed by the battleship HMS Dreadnought.
The submarine captain credited with sinking the largest enemy tonnage ever was Lothar von Arnauld de la Péričre, scion of a Huguenot noble family driven from France by Louis XIV. During World War 1 he sank 194 allied ships totalling 454,000 tons. He was known for taking care to do his best to stop ships before sinking them in order to allow the crews to get into their lifeboats. The highest number of ships sunk was credited to Otto Steinbrink, but his 202 sinkings "only" totalled 232,000 tons.
David Wanklyn of HM Submarine Upholder won the VC in the Mediterranean. Credited with 140,000 tons, he was the highest (confirmed) scorer on the Allied side.
In the Pacific, USS Wahoo was commanded by "Mush" Morton. Known for his incredible aggression, he was the first sub commander to successfully sink a destroyer with a "down-the-throat" shot. Three of his officers went on to become successful skippers of their own, including Dick O'Kane.
Dick O'Kane of USS Tang won the Medal of Honor for his last patrol — by ripping apart a Japanese convoy in a surface night attack, long after even Japanese escorts started carrying radar and making surface attacks incredibly hazardous. While Tang went down in that attack, she was sunk by her own torpedo — otherwise she would have escaped scot-free.
Commander Jimmy Launders of the HMS Venturer holds the honorable distinction of being the first and only man ever to sink an enemy submarine while both his and the enemy's ship were submerged. Off the course of Norway on February 9th 1945, the Venturer detected U-864, which was known to have jet engines and V-2 parts destined for Japan onboard. A new vessel, U-864 was equipped with a snorkel allowing it to run submerged - a new feat for a submarine of the period. Realizing that the enemy would not surface and thus present him an easy target, Launders and his crew proceeded to do what was thought to be impossible: Mentally calculate a firing solution in four dimensions. Even with their almost impossible math skills, they still had to estimate the submarine's depth and make a Batman Gambit about its evasive maneuvres. This they did, firing half their torpedoes at the German sub. U-864 managed to evade three, but the fourth punctured its pressure hull and imploded it. Had she reached Japan, WWII may have been significantly longer.
The Japanese I-19 had the most successful salvo ever when it launched six torpedoes and scored hits with every single one. Three hit and sank the carrier Wasp; one hit and damaged the destroyer O'Brien, which later sank; and two hit and damaged the battleship North Carolina. The latter two ships were several miles away on the other side of the convoy.
Luigi Rizzo, also known as The Sinker, was the closest thing Italian MAS (a speedboat with two torpedoes strapped on) Ace. Closest thing because he only sank two ships... Who just happened to be the coastal defence ship SMS Wien, that was being hunted down by the Italian Navy due the damage she was wrecking and was sank while in the supposed safety of Trieste's harbour, and the Austro-Hungarian flagship SMSSzent István, single-handedly ruining the Austro-Hungarian Navy final sortie. And the latter wasn't even on purpose: he was returning to his base after an uneventful patrol when he stumbled on the Szent István and her squadron (consisting of another battleship, a destroyer and six torpedo boats) sailing to join the rest of the Austro-Hungarian battleship fleet for a desperate attack on the Otranto Barrage, so he decided to fire torpedoes before running home to warn about the impending attack, sinking the flagship without the squadron realizing what had hit them and convincing the commander-in-chief Horty (with flag on the other flagship Viribus Unitis leading another squadron) the Italians were waiting for him.
Though it's not often remembered in the West (due to certain political disagreements in the intervening time) the highest-scoring Allied ace of World War II was in fact the Russian Ivan Kozhedub with 62 kills. In Soviet times there was a (officially suppressed, as the party line was that Soviet advisors didn't actually take part in combat) rumor that Kozhedub, despite the official orders to the contrary, actually flew combat missions in the Korean War, where he was a military advisor, and had another five victories there, becoming one of the very few two-war aces. It couldn't really be confirmed, though.
It's widely believed that Kozhedub and the second best Allied ace of WWII, Alexander Pokryshkin (59 kills), have much higher real kill counts due to the way Soviet scoring system worked. Soviet pilots, ironically for a socialist country, received significant money bonuses for their victories, so to fight overclaiming and thus overspending, the confirmation rules were intentionally very strict, requiring, for example, the confirmation by the ground team, which automatically excluded any kills made behind the enemy lines, even if witnessed by other pilots. Pokryshkin also reportedly had many of his early kills not registered due to his bad relations with his superior officer. Pokryshkin also had the habit of "giving out" his victories to his wingmen and other younger pilots in his regiment in later years of WWII, as attested in their memoirs. It's thought that his real kill count is somewhere in the vicinity of ~120 victories.
Giora Epstein. With a meager (compared to WWII aces) 17 confirmed kills holds the record for shot down jet planes and is the top ranking post-WWII ace. There is an old story about Giora being a part of the group escorting a certain United States senator / former fighter pilot around Israel. After a tour of the IAF museum the senator spent some time describing every single one of his 5 confirmed kills in detail before asking Giora himself whether he had anything to boast.
John Thach is more a thinking ace pilot as a tactician who in World War II invented The Thach Weave which allowed US pilots to fight the technically superior Japanese Zeroes, even frustrating Saburo Sakai, and later the Big Blue Blanket that was an effective defense against the feared Kamikaze suicide attacks.
Frank G. Tallman, the legendary Hollywood stunt pilot. He may have never flown in combat but no one can deny that he was one of the greatest ace pilots who ever lived. Amongst other things he flew a Beechcraft 18 through a steel framed billboard at 200 MPH with less than 24 inches of clearance for It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World and landed a Standard J1 biplane on two-inch caster wheels for The Great Waldo Pepper. Tallman did things with real airplanes that no one would dare do outside of CGI nowadays and his book Flying The Old Planes is considered a classic of aviation literature. Ironically, he died in a preventable accident, flying at low altitude in bad weather.
Robin Olds wins the award for professional longevity first gaining 12 victories in World War 2 flying P-38s and P-51's in the European Theatre and then 20 years later he downed an additional 4 MiG's over Vietnam flying the F-4 Phantom. He retired in 1972 as a Bad Ass General and during his Vietnam years he was known for an extravagantly waxed (and decidedly non-regulation) handlebar mustache. Indeed, to this day, American airmen honor General Olds' epic badassery by growing mustaches during Mustache March. Also, he has a fighter wing named in his honor: The 8th Fighter Wing, aka "The Wolfpack", from a Rousing Speech he gave before the battlenote In fact his calling them his "Wolfpack" was a callback to another unit in World War II that one of his commanding officers used to fly for where the wing, under his command, ambushed a dozen of the NVAF's newest MiG-21s and shot down seven of them... nearly half of North Vietnam's entire inventory of the advanced fighters. With no American casualties.
Olds is on the record that once he scored his 4th kill in Vietnam, he deliberately avoided taking a 5th MiG because he was informed they'd drag him out of combat and put him on publicity tours once he became a two-war ace. He also missed out on the Korean War despite constant lobbying for a transfer to a combat squadron (any combat squadron)note He learned years later that his wife, a well-connected socialite, had pulled strings to ensure he was nowhere near the dangers of combat.. So if things had gone a little differently, it's very possible that Olds could have become the only three-war ace.
Nguyen Van Coc, highest scoring ace of the Vietnam War. There were sixteen Vietnamese aces and two American ones.
Before the production of You Only Live Twice, the James Bond producers, as well as the film's director and some crew members visited Japan to scout for locations. Director Lewis Gilbert got terrified when the helicopter pilot said "Me kamikaze pilot!". But the man's flying was good enough for him to be hired by the film's production. And when two helicopters had a small on-air collision (which severed the foot of a cameraman), the kamikaze managed to land the damaged chopper on a really irregular terrain! (the film also features a lesser example in K.H. Wallis, the inventor of Little Nellie who did some truly risky landing-takeoffs piloting it)
Richard Candelaria, an American World War II pilot who happened to fly a P-51D Mustang on April 7, 1945. He gets separated from his squadron and forms up on the bombers they were to be escorting ahead of the rest of his squadron just in time to fight off 15 Luftwaffe in Bf 109 fighters, including one German Ace Pilot, and two more in Me 262 jet fightersalone. This man defeated the jets, possibly shooting down one, shot down the Ace Pilot in a one-on-one dogfight, and took out three other planes before the rest of his squadron arrived on scene, at which point the rest of the Germans bugged out. And you, too, can witness his feat thanks to modern science and an interview with the man himself.  His tale starts at 8:00 and continues into part 4 and 5. This sounds very like the final mission of the first person shooter Blazing Angels, suggesting they took his tale and made it into an awesome video game.
Louis E. Curdes was one of the few pilots (see below) to shoot down planes from four powers in World War II. In the Mediterranean, he shot down seven German planes and one Italian plane before being shot down and taken prisoner. He escaped and evaded capture for eight months before making it to Allied lines. He was later transferred to the Pacific where he shot down a Japanese plane (One of only three pilots to shoot down planes from all three Axis powers.). THEN he shot down an American plane which was about to land in Japanese territory, forcing it to ditch. He is the only American pilot to earn a medal for shooting down an American plane. To top it off, his future wife was on that plane. 
Saburo Sakai and probably a few other Japanese pilots shot down planes from five different powers — Chinese, British, Dutch, Australian and American. This probably also goes for quite a few German pilots (some of whom had already shot down enemy aircraft in the Spanish Civil War), since Germany was engaged in war against several smaller powers in succession and simultaneously. For instance, in the North African theatre of operations the Luftwaffe faced not just the British, but also the Australian, South African, Free French and U.S. air forces. Meanwhile on the Eastern front, the Soviets were facing the air forces of Germany, Italy and various smaller powers allied to the Axis.
Hans-Joachim "Jochen" Marseille aka the "Star of Africa", while not exactly the most famous German ace of World War II, was exactly what you'd expect an ace pilot to be - a total womanizer and party guy with not much respect for authority. He was transfered to the North African theater in order to get him away from French women. While in the Battle of Britain he had not been notably successful, in North Africa he became virtually unstoppable. He would charge his plane straight into large British formations, then use high deflection shots to shoot the cockpit of his foes (at such an angle, you can't even see the plane your shooting at due to the engine). He racked up 158 confirmed kills, which all were against Western Allies, all but seven in North Africa. On 1 September 1942 he shot down 17 enemy fighters - of which 10 can be verified on RAF records. Erich Hartmann said that he thought Marseille was the best shot of any fighter pilot. He was killed when he tried to bail out of his Bf 109G after the engine failed and he hit the vertical stabilizer.
Second-highest on the list of top-scoring German "Experten" against Western Allies with 102 credited air victories was Adolf Galland, known to R.A.F. pilots as "the Fighting Fob". Like Marseille, he came from a French Huguenot family. He started flying in the Condor Legion during the Spanish Civil War and finished the Second World War as commanding officer of the major German jet-fighter unit, the JV 44. Known for his love of cigars (there was a special holder in the cockpit) and for the Mickey Mouse emblem on his planes.
A note must be made here regarding the JV 44. Formed partly as a Uriah Gambit and partly as an Antarctic reassignment for Galland, who was a vocal critic of Goring and the policies and tactics of Luftwaffe high command, this unit became the greatest gathering of airfighting talent ever assembled in any military force on the face of the Earth, with all its pilots easily qualifying as aces—if not triple aces—before they joined the unit. Many pilots recruited into the outfit had more than a hundred planes downed to their credit; the five top scoring pilots of the unit downed more than a thousand planes combined over their flying careers.note Gerhard Barkhorn (301), Heinrich Bär (220), Walter Krupinski (197), Johannes Steinhoff (176), and Günther Lützow (110), totaling into 1004 aircraft downed; Lützow's score includes five kills made in the Spanish Civil War. Of these men, Bär (German for "bear") had the highest score in a jet, downing 16 planes with the Me 262. Steinhoff downed 6, Krupinski and Lützow both downed 2, and Barkhorn, who had trouble adjusting to the jet, downed none. Equipped with the Messerschmitt Me 262, these men mainly participated in defensive missions, attacking Allied bomber formations. Thankfully for the Allies, no more than six of the unit's planes were operational at any given time, and the war ended just two months after the unit's formation. Many of the pilots went on to become high-ranking officers in the postwar West German Air Force, aided by the fact that very few fighter pilots and even fewer aces of the Luftwaffe were ardent Nazis to begin with. Given the nature of modern aerial warfare, no such assembly of aces would likely ever exist again.
Francis "Gabby" Gabreski scored 28 kills in World War II and another 6.5 in Korea, putting him half a kill short of being a septuple ace and making him one of the few two-war aces. He was famous (or infamous) for a flying style that was aggressive to the point of recklessness, often ripping into enemy formations before his wingmen had any chance to join the fight. His hyper-aggressive style made him controversial among his various wingmen; some thought he didn't care about fighting as a team and only wanted more kills for himself, while others loved the way he flew and tried to emulate his fast, hard-hitting tactics. This recklessness very nearly killed him on his final mission of World War II, a flight that wasn't even supposed to happen. He was scheduled to be flown home after having flown the standard maximum number of combat hours, but managed to convince somebody to let him fly "one more mission" escorting bombers into Germany. During a strafing run, he flew too low and clipped his propeller, and after he crashed he spent the rest of the war in a German POW camp.
Gabreski also happens to have been a Polish-American who spoke fluent Polish. Before the United States Army Air Forces were fully up to operational status in Europe, he managed to talk British authorities into letting him fly with the Free Polish Air Force (which was then under British operational control) so that he could gain combat experience before his unit entered operations.
Almost 90 Czechoslovakian pilots flew in the Battle of Britain and served in several RAF units. Karel Kuttelwascher had 18 confirmed kills (plus 2 for fights in France). The top Czech scorer in the Battle of Britain was Sgt. Josef Frantiek, flying with Polish Fighter Squadron who claimed 17 confirmed kills, which made him the highest scoring Allied pilot in the Battle of Britain. Other Czechoslovakian flying aces were Alois Vaátko, Frantiek Peřina, Otto Smik, Josef Stehlík, Miloslav Mansfeld, Leopold rom, Václav Cukr, Otmar Kučera and Tomá Vybíral. The RAF's 303 Squadron was manned mostly by Polish pilots, plus Josef Frantisek, and despite arriving late they managed to be the top-scoring fighter outfit in the Battle of Britain, making them a squadron of Ace Pilots.
When flying in target-rich environment or the Last Stand, almost any pilot who can survive long enough, will become an ace. The Battle of Malta produced more RAF aces than any other single campaign, top scorer being George "Screwball" Beurling with 27 kills. Likewise, the top scoring RAF pilot, Marmaduke Thomas Pattle, scored the majority of his 50 kills during the Battle of Crete.
Pattle was the high scorer of both Gloster Gladiator (15) and Hawker Hurricane (35). Only 6 of his victories cannot be cross-checked on existing Italian or German records. He 25 of his victories in twenty days before his death in air combat over Eleusis Bay.
John Boyd, father of the F-15 and F-16 and the Energy-Maneuverability Theory, and the man who literally wrote the book on flying fighters, was himself a pretty hot pilot back in the 1950s. Though he never scored a kill (he was too young to enlist in World War II, he flew an F-86 in Korea but didn't serve a full tour of duty, and was assigned as a base commander in Vietnam), he made a name for himself as "Forty-Second Boyd," so named because of a challenge he issued to pilots in training. If a pilot could last forty seconds in a mock dogfight against him, he'd pay the pilot $40. No one ever pulled it off. And let's emphasize that he did this in an F-100, a capable plane but also so unforgiving that it was known for a 25% fatality rate in training.
Edward "Butch" O'Hare, the namesake for O'Hare International Airport in Chicago (they even have an F4F Wildcat in front in his honor). He became the American navy's first ace of World War II by shooting down five enemy bombers in a single day (a feat which also earned him the Medal of Honor), and he was the one who proved that the F6F Hellcat marked the end of Japanese fighter superiority at Marcus Island, for which he received the Distinguished Flying Cross. He also helped the navy develop its night defense tactics, and according to a former wingman, always taught his pilots little tips and tricks to improve their flying. Unfortunately, though, he was lost in the navy's first night defense flight — a Japanese B4M "Betty" bomber got on his six and opened fire, and his Hellcat dipped out of formation and into the darkness. Neither he nor his fighter were ever found.
Any reasonably competent pilot with a dash of aggressiveness and enough tactical savvy can score aerial victories in a plane designed for dogfighting. A very talented few (Rudel, Vejtasa) can score victories in a dive bomber. Adrian "Warby" Warburton of the RAF scored five aerial victories while flying a Martin Maryland, a type of MEDIUM BOMBER with forward-firing machine guns.
The entire crew of the Apollo 13mission: specifically Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, Fred Haise, Gene Kranz, and John Aaron. Surviving multiple life support system failures in space, jury-rigging a system to keep themselves alive, and managing a successful return landing with all aboard surviving.
The crew of Gemini VIII, Neil Armstrong and Dave Scott, survived a thruster malfunction (that nearly caused both to black out) and emergency abort, landing safely after only 10 hours in space. It was Armstrong's coolness-under-fire that got him picked to lead Apollo 11 on the first moon landing.
Eric Moody and Roger Greaves of British Airways Flight 9.: A cloud of volcanic ash had stalled all of the engines, flaming out one. Both kept the plane in the air anyway and it eventually landed safely, with no loss of life. Bonus points go to Moody for managing to remain calm under pressure:
Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get them going again. I trust you are not in too much distress.
Bob Pearson of the Gimli Glider flight: the flight ran out of fuel due to an imperial/metric unit mix-up before reaching its destination, causing all engines and all electrical power to fail. Pearson operated the jet as if it was a glider to make the emergency landing at a disused airport, saving the lives of all onboard, none of whom were even seriously injured. Not to mention that all other pilots crashed the plane when they were put in simulation of the event.
Alfred C. Haynes and Dennis E. Fitch of United 232: The aircraft, due to a catastrophic mechanical failure, lost its hydraulic system, rendering the flight controls useless. By alternating throttle inputs, Haynes was able to regain some control over the plane's speed, altitude, and steering. The pilots were able to get the plane away from populated areas, notify emergency services, and try their best to land - and while 111 people did die in the resulting crash, 185 survived what could only be described as impossible odds due to these pilots - and there were no ground deaths.
Ed Reyes and Jaime Herrera, the pilots of Philippine Airlines Flight 434. Like the above United 232, their plane lost its flight controls-this time due to a bomb in the passenger cabin. Reyes and Herrera used the same steer-by-throttle method as Haynes and Fitch. The pilots eventually brought the aircraft down safely in Okinawa. Several passengers were injured by the bomb, but the only fatality was a man who had the bad luck to be seated directly above the bomb.
US Airways Flight 1549, called the "Miracle On The Hudson," with only 3 injuries and no deaths when, due to sudden loss of power from a bird strike, there was no choice left but to ditch in the Hudson River. Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger, who successfully glided the plane to a floating stop while avoiding river traffic, is the most well-known, but according to The Other Wiki, the entire crew of Flight 1549 was later awarded the Master's Medal of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators.