Perhaps there is something about aerial wargames that does not adapt well to wargaming (I feel age of sail also suffers from this). I'll highlight a few issues.
First, it's not like we have a lot of good rules to choose from. Most rules are simply rebadged mechanics from the 1970s. Check Your Six is a good example of this. It's more polished than its ancestors, but still has unwieldy mechanics (add firepower dice - say 8 x d6, total them up, then consult a chart, roll 2d6 and add modifiers, to see final damage - just so clunky). And it has written orders, ffs. This is aerial dogfights, not 1970s Napoleonics brigade level wargames. I want to move model Mustangs around making pew pew noises, not be writing C12+H1 or whatever. Bag the Hun at least tries to be different with card activation, but has the usual 101 different mechanics and chaos of a Lardies ruleset. Also, planes moving double speed because they are in formation or at a higher altitude just feels wrong. I know it's meant to show the tactical advantage, but a Spitfire moving twice as far as a 109 in a game turn because it is in formation is just... jarring.
Many aerial games are designed for 1v1 or 2v2 duels. That's not a wargame - that's a cardgame or boardgame! If you rocked up at my house, handed me a single 40K model and said "OK, get one model each, let's play a wargame"... ... I would likewise decline to admit we are wargaming. I'd say Wings of War (the grandaddy of X-Wing) falls into this category. Some aerial games seemed designed for exhibition games where there are 10+ gamers, and everyone flies a single plane. For the average gamer, good luck arranging a 10-a-side air wargame every week. Finally, if I want to fly a single plane, I'd can play one of the many excellent PC games which can do the job immeasurably better and faster and in more detail.
While I also think, say, space wargames tend to have poor rulesets, at least I can see a way forward. Use vector movement, for a start - at least then it's not blatantly WW2-naval-in-space. Dropfleet Commander (with its atmospheric combat, focus on supporting meaningful planetary missions, and use of detection risk v reward) for example, shows innovation in the genre.
But let's do our best. What are some issues with aerial wargames? How could we fix them?
Well, I think the primary focus is energy management - trading height/speed for position against an enemy. So generally you need to track height and energy - I do this using d6 (for energy) of different colours (for height). Even this simple tracking adds to the "time cost" of moving a single plane.
Another key issue is pilot skill - this is probably more important in terms of initiative (who moves when) but always letting better pilots move last or whatever removes much of the chaos from a dogfight and makes it easy to game the system. You can randomise this with dice rolls or cards but there is more "time cost" added.
I feel aerial wargames which handle larger quantities of planes fall into a bit of a trap; it's the old "wrong command level" or "excess micromanagement" where in, say a WW2 company game, you the gamer (the company commander) might position individual models... ...where a real company commander would not be bothering himself with individuals, but at most "two levels down" - his platoons, and perhaps squads.
If you do have say 8 planes - what role are you, the gamer, taking? Squadron leader? Then why are you steering each individual pilot and choosing their exact positions, maneuvers and throttle settings? That's something no squadron commander could do, especially once battle is joined.
But... ...you're making up arbitrary rules to define what "aerial wargaming is." I don't think it's unfair to suggest a 1v1 game is a duel, not a wargame. It's not unreasonable to suggest most wargames involve 4+ maneuver units. Interestingly, 4-8 units is about what most commanders control in real life. If you are playing Napoleonics and each player had a single troop block, it's not really a wargame. You'd just push them together and roll dice.
Okay, so how can we fix this? Abstraction vs Detail.
I'm wondering how much we can abstract. Remember abstraction is good is it retains the same effect, while cutting out the "time cost" and "complexity." You can abstract too far, though - I remember playing a squadron-level game where it was simply "range bands" in which you rolled dice contests - without any need for a table, terrain or models at all.
Do we need altitude?
If it's trading energy for position - could we simple say any non-combat, straight line flight was "gaining energy." Whether you are accelerating in level flight, or climbing for height/stored energy, it's a net gain. Turns, change of facing and dogfighting is an "energy loss" of varying amount. Adding extra speed (diving) could also be spending energy. (Speed and energy are not the same thing) C21:Air War does away with altitude (with jets, this seems more feasible) and Blood Red Skies seems to simplify altitude into an "advantaged/disadvantaged" states.
Should we actually plot the precise moves of each aircraft?
How big are these hexes? How long is the turn? What if we just pushed two planes together (like a melee in ground rules) and said they were "dogfighting?" Are we the pilot, a flight leader, a squadron leader - what should we be controlling?
What about a dice pool to represent the pilot's multitasking ability? Here's a random idea of a movement/combat mechanic to show you what I mean:
Aircraft may move between half and their total "energy" (noted by a d6) in movement, and get a free 60d turn at the end of the move. If they only do this, they gain one energy. This represents straight line movement or slight climbing.
You must move 1 hex forward before turning. Any extra 60d turn beyond the free one mentioned, costs 1 energy, and any 120 or 180 pivot costs 2-3. You can dive and spend 1 energy to move an extra hex (beyond your actual energy). So as you can see, energy can be swapped for turning ability, more speed... or better dogfighting (see below)
Any time two planes are in adjacent hexes they are dogfighting. They get 1 free d6 if they are facing their opponent, and +1d6 each energy they spend. Winning the dogfight means they can make 1 attack roll for their margin of success, and may turn their plane 60d to face their opponent if they are not already.
What are you doing here?
Okay, the example I did might be poorly illustrated, and might fail in practice, but can you see how I'm trying to remove the maneuver charts and complexity. I've abstracted all the precise maneuvers from CY6 or BtH. Moving individual aircraft would be easy, but there would still be decisions (do I spend energy to turn or move further; or save energy up to last longer in a dogfight; planes starting a dogfight with lower energy will get less rolls and run out sooner etc etc)
Look at the Big Picture
I'm not saying my solution is even a good one; I'm just showing how I'm trying to explore beyond the usual mechanics. Pushing models together like a skirmish melee and claiming they are "dogfighting" may seem weird; where's the "tailing" and complex Immelmans and maneuver sequences we are used to from our usual Blue Max ripoffs? But does my "napkin sketch" idea focus on energy management? Yes, it does.
What I'm trying to say, is I feel aerial wargames are re-using the same mechanics, and are very limited. We need to get away from traditional mechanics, and look for solutions/mechanics based on the key issues, not simply re-using things for the sake of tradition. I'd like to start from scratch, not using another set of aerial rules as a guide. Get right out of the box. What if you used Infinity as the basis for an aerial wargame? Could it be used to emphasize energy management and pilot skill? What about the old impulse tracks from Star Fleet Battles - could we make a 8-impulse chart? Or would this slow things even worse?
This design process isn't easy - aerial wargames are, I think, inherently more complex than most other genres, as it is in a 3D realm, with an element of resource management (height/energy) attached by default to each unit - tracking this automatically adds to the time cost/complexity. Using more than a few aircraft per side leads easily to the "wrong command level" trap where the gamer is micromanaging too much - yet managing only one aircraft either makes for a bland game or limits its appeal; most gamers, in something as niche as aerial wargames, have lots of plane models and few gaming friends; more common than the situation with 10+ gaming friends all wanting to play planes with only one model each... ..and I feel 1-model-per-player leads to unfavourable comparisions with PC games such as the free War Thunder or $5 for IL-2 Sturmovik.
I'd love to see a set of aerial wargames rules made with someone with fresh eyes, who build a game based around their philosophy of air combat, rather than building it in imitation of an Avalon Hill game they played back in '82.