Where does the name Link trainer come from? This got to be the oldest type of flight simulator in existence. Edwin Link created the Link trainer in the late 1920s. The son of an organ factory owner, Link used his knowledge of organ pipes, valves and bellows to create the moving-base simulator.” Now sitting in a corner of the Kansas Aviation Museum (KAM), The Link trainer is credited with teaching half a million pilots to learn to fly in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. Watch the video here to see this remarkable machine at work. Link Aviation Devices, Inc, founded and headed by Link, was based in Binghamton, NY. During World War II, they were used as a key pilot training aid by almost every combatant nation.
Link’s first pilot trainer, which he launched in 1929, looked like a large toy airplane, with stubby wings and fuselage mounted on a rotating joint. As the pilot moved the controls, the pumps and bellows rolled and pitched the fuselage. According to historical records, Link’s first military sales came as a result of the Air Mail scandal, when the Army Air Corps took over carriage of U.S. Air Mail. Twelve pilots were killed in a 78-day period due to their unfamiliarity with Instrument Flying Conditions. The large scale loss of life prompted the Air Corps to look at a number of solutions, including Link’s pilot trainer. The Air Corps was given a stark demonstration of the potential of instrument training when, in 1934, Link flew in to a meeting in conditions of fog that the Air Corps evaluation team regarded as “not flyable.” As a result, the Air Corps ordered the first six pilot trainers at $3,500 each.
Several Link trainers still exist and are shown in museum around the world but very few in working order. At KAM, Jim Hammer performs maintenance on the KAM Link trainer, calls it “an honor.” Hammer’s father learned flight on a Link trainer in the 1940s as part of the army air core, later becoming an instructor. He says: “Pilots would be disoriented at first, students would be disoriented and probably got air sick or simulator sick. In this trainer you would learn to ignore those feelings and just fly on the instrument, and that saved a lot of people’s lives because the early air mail pilots were crashing and dying,”
Several models of Link trainers were sold in a period ranging from 1934 through to the late 1950s. These trainers kept pace with the increased instrumentation and flight dynamics of aircraft of their period, but retained the electrical and pneumatic design fundamentals pioneered in the first Link.
Trainers built from 1934 up to the early 1940s had a color scheme that featured a bright blue fuselage and yellow wings and tail sections. This earned it the name of “Blue Box”.
KAM allows visitors to fly the Blue Box under supervision.
Images courtesy of Selfridge Military Air Museum. Featured image by Jack1956. Blue box image by Bzuk.