Skip to main content

Chuck Yeager, WWII ace, pioneering aviator, and videogame designer, has died

Chuck Yeager's Air Combat
(Image credit: Electronic Arts)

Legendary American aviator Chuck Yeager, who played the starring role in a trio of Electronic Arts flight sims in the late '80s and early '90s, has died. Yeager's death at the age of 97 was announced by his wife Victoria, through his Twitter account, on December 7.

See more

Yeager's career as a pilot began during World War II, with his enlistment in the US Army Air Force in 1941. He became "ace in a day" by shooting down five enemy aircraft in a single mission. He shot down 13 planes in total, and remained the Air Force after the war, and became the first pilot to break the sound barrier, flying the Bell X-1 aircraft to a speed of Mach 1.05 in 1947.

He rose to the rank of brigadier general prior to his retirement from the military in 1975. He continued to fly, however, and in 1997 marked the 50th anniversary of his pioneering Mach 1 flight by taking an F-15 past Mach 1. It was a relatively slow flight for a plane that can easily double that mark, but it resulted in this spectacularly good tweet 20 years later:

See more

Yeager's videogame career spanned three high-regarded Electronic Arts flight sims: The best-selling Chuck Yeager's Advanced Flight Simulator in 1987, Chuck Yeager's Advanced Flight Trainer 2.0 in 1990, and my favorite of the bunch, Chuck Yeager's Air Combat, released in 1991, on which he's credited as lead designer. 

Unlike the prior Chuck Yeager games, which are straight flight simulators, Air Combat has an unusual narrative element: It's built around "historic missions," based on actual combat missions from the Second World War, Korean War, and Vietnam War. It also features a "test flight" mode, custom mission creator, and digitized voice messages from Yeager himself, including "Welcome to Chuck Yeager's Air Combat" at startup, which was a big deal back then.

Yeager's post-military life also included appearances in Hollywood films including The Right Stuff and, according to IMDB, Smokey and the Bandit 2. He served on the Rogers Commission that investigated the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, and in 2005 was given a retirement promotion to major general. In 2012, he marked the 65th anniversary of his first Mach 1 flight by doing it again