In 1928, Edwin C. Link
left his father's organ building business to begin work on a "pilot trainer." Link had learned to fly
and was thrilled to try his hand in the aviation business. As his knowledge of flying began to grow, he envisioned
a device that would allow pilots to take their premilinary flight instruction while safely on the ground. With
his organ bulding experience,he designed the trainer using suction through fabric
bellows to cause motion in pitch and roll. The amount of suction is proportionate
by the amount of movement of the control yoke. The trainer has authentic
control yoke, pedals and trim wheels. One enters the trainer through a
side door and sliding canopy. Once seated you can be totally enclosed,
separating you from the outside world, enhancing realism and the feeling
of being in flight..
Crude pilot training aids had been designed even before WW I, but none had any significant training value. Edwin A. Link provided a giant step forward when in 1931 he received a patent on his "pilot maker" training device. He had perfected his design in the basement of his father's piano and organ factory in Binghamton, NY. Organ bellows and a motor provided the means for the trainer, mounted on a pedestal, to pitch, roll, dive and climb as the student "flew" it. Ironically, most of his first sales were to amusement parks. In 1934, after a series of tragic accidents while flying the air mail, the Army Air Corps bought six Link trainers to assist in training pilots to fly at night and in bad weather relying on instruments.
The U.S. Military services saw the need for the "pilot maker" but lacked the money to buy them. In February 1934, the U.S. Army Air Corps was ordered to fly the airmail in the United States. Army pilots lacked experience in flying "on instruments" at night or in inclement weather. Five pilots were killed in the first few days of flying the mail.
The Army quickly began a search for solutions and arranged for Link to visit the Newark Airport in New Jersey to demonstrate his trainer. On the day of the demonstration the weather turned stormy, but Link arrived safely and
succeeded in convincing the Army that instrument flight was practical and could be taught in his trainer.
WW II era brought orders for thousands of Link trainers from the U.S. and many foreign countries. Although Army Air Forces aviation cadets flew various trainer aircraft, virtually all took blind-flying instruction in the Link. Movement of the trainer is accomplished by vacuum operated bellows, controlled by valves connected to the control wheel (or stick) and rudder pedals. An instructor sat at the desk and transmitted radio messages which the student in the Link heard through his earphones. Inside the "cockpit", the student relied on his instruments to "fly" the Link through various maneuvers while his navigational "course" was traced on a map on the desk by the three-wheeled "crab". Slip stream simulators gave the controls the feeling of air passing over control surfaces and a rough air generator added additional realism during the "flight". The trainers were realistic enough that a humorous but unlikely story circulated that one student, told by his instructor that he had run out of fuel on a night flight, broke his ankle when he leaped from the trainer as though parachuting to safety.
The complexity of flight simulators has grown with that
of military and civilian aircraft. No one knows how many lives, aircraft,
and training dollars have been saved by flight simulators, but those
savings can be traced back to Link's which led the way to today's sophisticated trainers.