Of course the flight sim purists always hated WC but hey..they are purists for a reason.
Well that's cuz it wasn't a flight sim, it was a space combat sim and those crazy Flight sim purists were never all that into those.
To be honest Flight Sims and Space Flight Sims in general seem to be in short supply these days. Which is a shame, I have this great joystick for my comp that's great for flight sims and I never get to use it. I think the Ace Combat Series and H.A.W.X are the only two left really.
I never played Wing commander much, my friend had it, he was huge to it. I was into it's cousin, the only other Space combat sim at the time which was Tie Fighter, the second game of the X-Wing series. I miss that game too. The X-wing series lasted a little longer, dieing off in the late 90s where as WC died in the early to mid 90s if memory serves.
I'm not sure there has been space combat games since then. Though to be honest from what little I recall Wing commander seemed very cool. If they wanted to, they could make a pretty fun, mature game out of it and I think the OP is dead on about some RP elements. Get different characters, interactions with the crew. Earn your way up the rank until you start making your own missions, choosing your own objectives. Upgrading certain flight skills, upgrading to better ships, bigger guns etc.
And even the focus on relationships, depending on how you interact with your crew between missions you can get extra intel or affect how they feel about you, and thus how well they work with you in missions. If you piss off your romantic interest maybe she helps you less, if you help out your buddy he goes out of his way to watch your back in the mission etc.
Could be a really fun game