It takes two to tango in the air combat business, so you need a wingman. Or three. Or sometimes more.
The wingman is a pilot of another plane whose job is to cover their lead's six o'clock — behind him — in an attack, and provide witty banter or, occasionally, someone to rescue. The wingman (or woman) will often have a contrasting personality to the Ace Pilot. They may also be wearing a red flightsuit.
In multi-player video games involving fighters, you can get a wingman as a given. Other games feature AI wingmen. They may utter the phrase "I Got You Covered!" Generally has nothing to do with Winged Men.
Compare Guy in Back, when a pilot has a companion sharing the same plane — for example, a navigator or radio operator. Since the F-4 Phantom II and F-14 Tomcat, two of the coolest planes around, are two-seaters, it's common to get a "four in two" group of characters.
Has mutated and been adopted as slang for the guy who, when you encounter a couple girls hanging out together, keeps one occupied so you can try to pick up the other. But that's not this trope. (It's this one instead.) And not to be confused with the '80s manga and anime called Yume Senshi (Dream Warrior) Wingman.
Many wingmen themselves may be aces, especially if they fly in a target-rich environment. When a group of aces are arranged into flights and wingmen, it is called a fat cat flight.
- In Super Dimension Fortress Macross/Robotech, Hikaru Ichijo/Rick Hunter has Max Jenuis/Sterling, who eventually has his own wife Milia/Miriya as his own wingmate. As it is, the couple are better pilots than Hikaru/Rick himself, but the former hotshot pilot has matured enough to eagerly concede that fact, especially he is still their squadron leader and he couldn't ask for better company to watch his back in combat.
- The pilots of Area 88 generally watch each other's backs when in formation, but permanent pairs don't often show up because of the base's high turnover.
- Mickey often performs this role for Shin and Saki, although he's a formidable fighter pilot in his own right.
- Star Wars (Marvel 1977) has 'wing guards', which seem to be the same thing. Luke Skywalker has a budding romance with his wing guard, Shira Brie. It ended poorly. What with her turning out to be an Imperial spy handpicked by Darth Vader.
- Wings to Fly uses the relationship and interpersonal bonds between a wing pair and the importance of having someone to watch your back as a deliberate contrast to the usual Gundam story being dominated by a single pilot with effectively no backup.
- The story has an unofficial rule that people who still think they can fight solo in AC 198 must suffer, and some otherwise capable pilots (or suits, including the Gundam Epyon) get into trouble because they're blindsided by the wingman of their current target.
- Discworld fic The Price of Flight deals with the Ankh-Morpork City Air Watch. Its commanding officers emphasise that everybody at sometime or another in air combat is somebody else's wingman, without exception. You might be the highest-scoring pilot in air combat, or you might be the newest recruit. But everybody watches everybody else's back.
- Iron Eagle: Doug Masters is following Chappie Sinclair until the climactic battle, but ends up flying solo for most of mission. His dad ends up joining as his Guy in Back.
- Top Gun: Cougar is Maverick's wingman. (Goose is his Guy in Back.) At the end of film, Maverick and Iceman become Fire-Forged Friends, and each offers the other the chance to be their wingman.
- Flight of the Intruder, has a similar arrangement to Top Gun, with The Boxman being Cool Hand's wingman, and Tiger being his second Bombadier-Navigator, replacing Morgue.
- Star Wars has more than a few examples, given the series' love of Old-School Dogfighting IN SPACE!:
- A New Hope: All of the fighters making the Trench Run fly in three-man teams, with the two guys in the back drawing fire to cover for the lead. Notably, Wedge establishes his Ace Pilot credentials saving Luke from a TIE Fighter, and Biggs dies protecting Luke from Darth Vader.
- Return of the Jedi: Luke and Leia team up against a pair of Scout Troopers on Speeder Bikers on the forest moon of Endor. During the climactic space battle, we see more than a few examples of the Rebel pilots covering each other in the furball.
- Revenge of the Sith: Anakin and Obi-Wan are Bash Brothers both in space and on foot during the film's Action Prologue, with Anakin saving Obi-Wan's life during the space battle. This is in contrast to how they try to kill each other after Anakin becomes Darth Vader.
- Star Wars Expanded Universe:
- In the X-Wing Series, pilots all have wingmates - since each person in the squadron is numbered, it's sequential. Leader/One is wingmate to Two, Five and Six are wingmates, etc. At least when a new squadron is formed; since pilots tend to keep their number for the duration of their time in a squadron (unless they're promoted to leader), things can get mixed up when some pilots are killed and new replacements are brought in. When the numbers are uneven, a temporary three-member wing forms. When one pilot is making an attack run, they typically tell their wingmate and are, in return, told "I'm your wing" - basically "Okay, I'll keep the enemy off you." The squadrons may split by wings to achieve different objectives.
- Squadrons during the Yuuzhan Vong War tended to split into shield trios instead, with the idea being that they could overlap and support one anothers' shields. Other formations, including wingpairs and flights of four, were used with the same concept.
- The Sixth Battle. As F-14s and A-6s feature a fair bit, you get "four in two" combos as well.
- In theory Terran Confederation fighter pilots in the Star Carrier series are organized into wing-pairs. In practice the chaotic nature of fighting in a 3D environment where ships can spin on a dime and fly backwards on inertia while shooting guys behind them means that more often than not, pilots fight individually and cover their own asses.
- Battlestar Galactica has Starbuck frequently flying wing for Apollo. The position assumes additional significance when Apollo, trying to bolster Starbuck's confidence during a suspected breakdown, offers to fly her wing. It's a big deal since he outranks her, and also proves just how far he's willing to go for her sake.
- Dos Gringos, being a band comprised of United States Air Force fighter pilots, have written a number of songs dealing with wingmen. "The Wingmen" specifically makes fun of new pilots fresh from training that act like The Ace just because they're now fighter pilots.
- Ace Combat, from the beginning (except in 04), though wingmen were useless in the first couple games (read more here). The enemy has them, too. To list just the most notable:
- Ace Combat 2: John "Slash" Harvard and Kei "Edge" Nagase
- Ace Combat 3: Erich Jaeger, Fiona Fitzgerald, Rena Hirose, Keith Bryan, Abyssal Dision, Cynthia Fitzgerald
- Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War: Kei "Edge" Nagase (similar names but it's not her), Alvin H. "Chopper" Davenport, Hans "Archer" Grimm, Marcus "Swordsman" Snow
- Ace Combat Zero: The Belkan War: Larry "Solo Wing Pixy" Foulke, Patrick James "PJ" Beckett
- Ace Combat 6: Fires of Liberation: Marcus "Shamrock" Lampert
- Ace Combat: Assault Horizon: José "Guts" Gutierrez
- Ace Combat Infinity: Omega. Kei "Edge" Nagase (or rather, her "real-world" counterpart) returns as a wingman to John "Slash" Harvard (ditto).
- Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown: In Mage squadron — Clown, with the 444th squadron — Tabloid, and in Strider squadron — Lanza (temporarily), Skald (temporarily), Jaeger, Huxian, and Count. You also briefly fly with Wiseman of Cyclops squadron, and two members of Sol Squadron on your wing.
- Wing Commander has many of them. This was a major selling point at the release of the first game. Despite the fact that wingman A.I. has always been buggy at best and the most useful wingmen are also the hardest to manage because of their Attack! Attack! Attack! flying style.
- Star Fox has Peppy, Slippy, and Falco as your wingmen for (almost) every mission in the original SNES game and Star Fox 64, though they tend to be the ones needing assistance, and if they get shot down in the original, they're gone for good (in 64 they just sit out the next mission for repairs). In Adventures, you're only in the Arwing between missions and for the final boss, and only for the latter do you get a wingman to help, while Assault goes back to having three wingmen each level, though Peppy is your Mission Control, and Krystal instead takes his place as a wingman. In Command, you control all of the characters yourself, and in the unreleased SNES sequel, you pick two characters to play as, switching between them at will.
- The ''Comanche series has Griffon 2-7 flying alongside 2-6 (the player and his copilot). The manual explicitly states that no self respecting army pilot would ever refer to his teammate as his "wingman," but 2-7 will be treated as one for game purposes.
- The FreeSpace series features wingmen who manage to be red shirts without being useless. Issuing proper orders to them can sometimes make a difficult mission much easier.
- Tachyon: The Fringe allows you to hire wingmen for an up-front fee and a percentage of your mission payouts.
- In X-Wing and Tie Fighter the player can issue evasive orders and designate targets to other squad members of variable competence.
- Lieutenant Schultz in Battlezone II's Fleshstorm mod accompanies Corber as a wingmate (in a Hover Tank) for several missions before the Recycler is deployed. However, he moves onto his own missions once Corber starts building his own Player Mooks from the Recycler.
- In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, in the fight against Divine Beast Vah Medoh, Teba creates distractions and draws dangerous enemy fire so Link has opportunities to take out the Energy Weapon generated Deflector Shields with Bomb Arrows. Teba originally planned to do everything on his own, but he discovered Link was a much better archer while Teba was the better flyer.
- Molly of Denali: In the tie-in podcast episode "Co-Pilot Molly", Molly becomes the co-pilot for Layla's bush plane, and does a very good job at piloting it.
- The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode Wonderbolts Academy placed the brash, egotistical Rainbow Dash as wingpony to the even brasher, more egotistical Lightning Dust. The entire episode was an Homage to Top Gun, naturally.
- In Season 2 of Ready Jet Go!, Sydney becomes the co-pilot of the Propulsion saucer, following the excellent piloting she demonstrated in "Back to Bortron 7".
- Wing Commander Academy has various characters do this for each other, along with Maverick and Maniac having an on-again-off-again discussion of who exactly should be flying on who's wing. One late episode has Commodore Tolwyn taking a fighter to join in the fray when the carrier is ambushed with most of her wing away, and he elects to fly on the wing of one of his junior officers, due to her having the most experience recently.
- Erich Hartmann, the top scoring Ace Pilot in history, never lost a wingman.
- Nor did Ilmari Juutilainen (Finnish Air Force) nor Saburo Sakai (Imperial Japanese Naval Air Force).
- John Thach, a brilliant US aerial tactician, made the wingman part of the fearsomely effective Thach Weave technique that could make the initially inferior US fighter planes a match for the Japanese Zero any day. Essentially, the two wingmates would fly some distance apart from each other. If one found an enemy on his tail, they would simply turn towards each other, with the enemy forced to either break off, or fly right into the second pilot's gunsights. Given that the American planes were sturdier and more heavily armed than the Japanese fighters, the resulting head-on confrontations usually favored the Americans. Later American designs emphasized these advantages, along with greater speed, to the point of intentional Game-Breaker status as the war continued. This tactic is known as Thach weave and is use even today.
- An example of wingman being himself an ace: S Sgt Nils Katajainen (36 kills) to Capt Hans Wind (78 kills)
- As John Godfrey (18 kills) to Don Gentile (22 kills) in USAAF. Likewise, Lt Roy Rushing (9 kills) to CMDR David Mc Campbell (34 kills) in US Navy.
- USAAF top ace Major Richard Bong (40 kills) flew often fat cat flights with Major Thomas Lynch (20 kills).
- It should be remembered that especially from World War II onward, organization in combat became more fluid so you rarely had a true leader/wingman pairing once the shooting started as happens in movies, as such "welded wing" pairings are significantly less tactically flexible (and more vulnerable). Rather, both the "leader" and "wingman" would fluidly switch off lead and cover roles as situation dictated. If the wingman had a better angle on the target or spotted a bandit he'd take over the lead to initiate the attack, and if the wingman was in danger the leader would take on the "covering" position, etc.
- That being said a major feature of World War II air combat was the basics of the leader/wingman becoming widespread. During the Battle of Britain for example the Germans use of leader/wingman pairs was the only clear advantage they had over the British. For historical reasons the British pilots flew in 'Vics', multi-plane units flying in rigid V formation. The Vic did have legitimate advantages when it was developed in World War I but none of these compensated for the fact that British fighter pilots were forced to pay so much attention to staying in formation that the German fighters had a much easier time catching them by surprise. To be fair to the British they quickly became aware of the problem once serious fighting started but their simply wasn't time to retrain their new pilots and experimenting with new tactics might have got even more pilots killed. Instead it was left to Squadron Leaders and Wing Commanders to adapt to the situation as best they could. When the daylight attacks ended British Fighter Command finally had a chance to experiment and retrain their pilots, resulting in them adopting the leader/wingman system by 1941.
- The vic formation is better on attacking bombers, while the leader/wingman pair is better against fighters.
- Based on the military meaning, the term "wingman" has come to mean generally "supporter/assistant/backup." Especially when it comes to dating, asking people out, or random hookups.
- At least one T-shirt has been made running with that. From the description:
Your wingman needs to watch your back and fend off that jerk in the fancy suit and TIE who's been chasing after your sister. Once you're in the trench, it's easy to get drunk on excitement, so your wingman should remind you to keep your targeting computer active... just in case you try to Force your torpedoes in the wrong exhaust port. Do yourself a favor, and choose Wedge as your wingman. If you don't, you might wake up next to a Wookiee.
- At least one T-shirt has been made running with that. From the description:
- In NASCAR, there is tandem drafting, where one car will hook up to the rear bumper of the car in front of it. Cars drafting in tandem often travel much faster than cars traveling by themselves. This was commonplace in the Car of Tomorrow restrictor plate races from 2007 to 2011, when NASCAR changed the rules package to break up the two car tango (as it is sometimes called) and return to old fashioned pack racing.