Familiar Skies: The Childlike Wonder of Ace Combat 7

Pictured above: Optionally-crewed Su-30SM fighters operated by the Erusean Air and Space Administration sit idle on a desert test range. Assets courtesy of Project Aces and Bandai Namco. (Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown)

I spent my childhood looking up, high into the skies, dreaming of one day etching my own stark white jet contrails into the heavens above. Wondering about those plane’s destinations, what tasks they held, and especially what model they were kept my mind going for hours. I still run outside to this day trying to spot, identity, and gaze at the planes roaring high above or the passing helicopter.

When I see aircraft, I get giddy. A first grade field trip to the Museum of Flight just outside Seattle, Washington sealed the deal for me.

Early on the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird earned its place in my heart as my all-time favorite aircraft. This high-altitude, supersonic strategic reconnaissance platform from the Cold War was the product of Director Kelly Johnson and his cadre of veteran professionals and youthful phenoms at Skunk Works, Lockheed’s advanced projects division. Blackbird’s matte livery inspires mystique. The curves and striking features latch onto your soul. Her pilot’s stories are few, they’re simple, and inspire legend.

On that class field trip I got to see Blackbird up-close. As a child she looked like a spaceship, she was so huge. Years later I’d learn that it wasn’t even an SR-71, but instead the obscure M-21, a twin-seat, drone-carrying stepsister to Blackbird. Not that it would’ve mattered. M-21 is just as gorgeous.

Nothing else interested me that day. Not the Blue Angels’ sexy blue F/A-18A Hornet hanging above or SAM 970—which set the mold for all standard “Air Force One” airframes to come. Nothing would ever compare to getting up close to this plane I had obsessed over for the entirety of my young life. Well, nothing else until I got to sit in the cockpit of one that day.

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown brought me back to that day exactly twenty years ago. Each time I boot this game up I become that same, giddy young girl.

I was hungry to jump into the cockpit of a legendary, high-performance fighter once more. It’s been years since I last played an enjoyable, quality flight combat game, and naturally, Ace Combat 7 would scratch that itch.

Sure enough, it did. My lord did it do just that.

Ace Combat 7 doesn’t immediately start with the constant threat of war. No one’s trying to shoot your plane down and you feel totally at ease. Instead, our narrator Avril details her progressing love of everything aviation in the game’s opening moments.

She spent her childhood gazing high into the wild blue yonder idolizing Osean fighter pilots like her father and grandfather. In adolescence Avril would run home from school, jump into a pair of coveralls, and meticulously restore an F-104 Starfighter from a rusting junk heap to a functional, chrome-plated wonder. Now all alone, Avril’s become a grown woman, well, rather just an older girl as she puts it. She’s ditched the coveralls for a military surplus flight suit.

Time to fly.

Avril lifts off from the surface. Her takeoff kicks up clouds of dust behind her with Starfighter’s powerful engine. I have the dumbest, widest grin watching her climb the first few hundred feet off the deck. Then I laugh, and of course, I cry. This is my entire childhood summed up in a cinematic, I tell myself.

Earthly concerns just don’t matter. Higher, further, faster. She wants more! The deep blue skies Avril’s yearned for all her life surround the Starfighter. This is heaven to her, I know it.

Writing that, I didn’t need to accurately quote Avril. I’ve had these feelings deep in my gut since I was a little girl. Avril and I, we’re cut from the same cloth.

Ace Combat 7 celebrates the sheer wonder and joy that flying inspires in humankind. I feel the labor of love Project Aces put into making each campaign mission and multiplayer sortie a joyous occasion.

I know every adversary I square off against or teammate sticking by my wing in multiplayer feels the same way. We’re all here for the same reason: A mere morsel of the drive that continues to send brave souls higher and further into the stars.


To my friends, followers, and newcomers, I thank you dearly for giving me some of your time today. This was my first article I bothered to finish, edit, and send out into the world in quite a while and I appreciate your patience.

Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown has been on my mind constantly over the past month and I hope I’ve convinced y’all to enjoy it with me. If you’d ever like to team up, I’ll be playing on PS4. Send a friend request to Grizzlei if you’d like!

This game is still just an outlet for my childhood dreams. It’s been a blessing having such wonderful escapism considering recent political developments here in the United States regarding transgender military personnel. Donald Trump has sought to ban us from serving in military uniform. Active and reserve troops fear for their careers. Veterans with honorable service worry their benefits will be withheld indefinitely or cut entirely. Additionally, no trans person can enlist nor are they able they seek an officer’s commission.

Trans people have served with distinction throughout all of America’s conflicts, in every service and occupation, garnering meritorious commendation and outstanding reputations. Raquel Willis wrote an insightful piece detailing the lives of five trans people of color in uniform which you can read here. I implore you all to contact your congressional delegation with your grievances over this hateful executive act. Thank you.

With love,

Natalie Stubblefield

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