The father of ‘study sims’, a devoted family man and a passionate aviator, Captain Eric William Ernst was a pioneer in the development of high-fidelity add-on aircraft for Flight Simulator.
Born in Nashville, Tennessee, Ernst followed his father Raymond in to a career as a pilot, flying first for American Eagle before joining American Airlines in 1999.
And it was his love of flying which led him to start developing freeware panels for FS98, most notably for the Boeing 757/767 but also the MD-80.
At a time when realistically-shaped 2D panels – never mind flyable virtual cockpits – were still regarded as an exotic new feature and the most advanced in-sim avionics available were a VOR receiver and (barely) 25kHz compatible COM radio – Eric Ernst’s work was ground-breaking. Not only did he create intricately detailed panels with high quality textures, he also created many of his own custom gauges. The result was a level of immersion and realism that had never been seen previously.
It was this pursuit of ever greater fidelity which led Ernst to create 767 Pilot in Command in 2001. One awestruck reviewer declared at the time: “this is quite simply the best, most complete, most reliable, bug-free panel I have seen to date.” From a fully-simulated Inertial Reference System which drifted realistically over time to the most complete and complex FMC that had ever been seen in a desktop flight simulator -- plus a 224 page manual to tell you how to use it all -- 767 Pilot in Command was the first Flight Simulator add-on which could truly be described as “study level”.
It was a high bar which future add-on developers would have to jump over if they were to be taken seriously. Many, since the news of his death, have described Eric Ernst as an inspiration. Without question, we would not be enjoying add-ons with the level of fidelity we take for granted today if it were not for Ernst’s revolutionary work on 767 PIC.
Many simmers continue to enjoy Ernst’s creations even now in the form of the Level-D 767 revitalised for FS2004, FSX and even more recently for Prepar3D v3. It is a testament to how far the product was ahead of its time that it still stands tall, if no longer quite shoulder-to-shoulder, amongst the leviathans of modern developers.
For all his passion for aviation and flight simulation, however, Eric’s greatest love was for his family and it was his devotion to his wife Randi and daughters Amanda and Cassandra that led him to place himself in to what he described as a “self-imposed exile” from the sim community some time after the release of 767 PIC. A gentleman in every sense of the word, those who corresponded with him spoke of his warmth, patience and passion in conversation.
A First Officer for almost his entire airline career, Ernst finally made the move to the left hand seat in 2017, achieving his lifelong dream of commanding an American Airlines aircraft. With his death at the age of 51, the flight simulation community has lost perhaps its greatest pioneer: in a world where we now take complexity for granted, Eric Ernst was a giant upon whose shoulders all of today’s developers stand.