Due to the pervasive record-keeping nature of the game's Pilot Feedback System, you should create a second "test pilot" as a guinea pig for dodgy missions or experimental flights. This way, your primary on-screen persona can advance through the ranks more quickly and not have to make up for the thousands of negative points that failed missions and destroyed aircraft can generate (even in Training mode).
Conversely, when designing missions from the Quick Mission Editor or the separate Mission Builder utility, you should have your multiship flights start in the air. The AI wingman pilots are highly prone to crashing into one another on the taxiways when you start them on the ground.
When entering into a furball with a flight of enemy planes, use your wingmen as much as possible. By issuing regular commands such as "engage the other one" or "protect me," you will carve out a little more flying room for yourself and shouldn't see quite as many inbound missiles with your name on them.