Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum
Canada 150 Vignette – 035 of 150
British Commonwealth Air Training Plan
Training -- The Link Trainer Part I
The Link Trainer was the brainchild of Edwin (Ed) Albert Link, born in Huntington, Indiana in 1904. As a young man, he was employed in his father's organ and piano factory in New York. He dreamed of taking flying lessons but could not afford the cost of fuel, instruction and aircraft time. However, he developed a 'feel for aircraft operations’ by taxiing a friend’s aircraft at nearby airfields in Endicott and Courtland New York. Convinced that he could build a device that would simulate what he had learned while operating his friend's aircraft, Link set to work in 1927 in the basement of his factory to build an aircraft flight simulator. By using technology of the day
- organ bellows and vacuum tubes – he completed the first Link Trainer in 1929. Seeing a commercial opportunity, Link and his brother opened the Link Flying School which guaranteed a customer would learn to fly for $85. Like many businesses at that time. the Great Depression cleaned out the pockets of most of his prospective customers. However, Link and his fledging company did produce 100 units by 1931 of which most could be found operating in amusement parks and parlours throughout America.
Tragedy in the early 1930s provided Link's first opportunity to break into the military market. One week into the first United States Army-Air Force contract to carry domestic mail by air by a dozen pilots, all who had been trained to fly by sight only, were killed attempting to fly their aircraft in inclement weather conditions. Army brass, looking for ways to improve the odds for their mail planes and pilots were provided convincing proof of the value of instrument training when Link managed to fly into a New Jersey airport for a meeting with them in weather conditions they considered un-flyable. Based on this unscheduled instrument flying demonstration, the USAAF ordered six of Link's ANT-18 (Army Navy model 18) trainers at a cost of $3500each.
The prospect of world war in the late 1930s and speculation that aircraft would be a primary weapon greatly enhanced the market for Link Aviation Devices Inc. Military planners were quick to realize that his trainer could provide a substantial portion of a training pilot's curriculum while minimizing the risk and costs of flight training in actual aircraft. Thirty-five countries utilized ANT-18 variants of which, over 10,000 units were produced during the Second World War.
Production continued with this model into the early 1950s. Faced with a shortage of trainer aircraft in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan in 1940, Director of Training Air Vice-Marshall Robert Leckie ordered 200 Link Trainers. Link retired from the company in 1954 which was subsequently sold to a number of prominent companies including the Singer Company, Hughes Aircraft and eventually Raytheon. Today, it is a part of the L-3 Communications Company Aviation Division and is producing flight simulators for many of today's modem aircraft including the Canadian Air Force FA 18 and U.S. Air Force F-16.
The Link Trainer was an incredible success because of its ability to realistically simulate all types of flying conditions and situations without the costs and risks of leaving the ground. Before the Link Trainer, simulating blind flying conditions (fog, darkness, blizzards) was accomplished by putting the student under a hood in the cockpit of a flying aircraft. It also proved to be a valuable selection tool for aircrew trainees. It was dubbed The `Pilot Eliminator' by some whom failed to show the skills required to pilot an aircraft.
Up to the end of the war, Link Trainers came in two major versions - open-cockpit (Visual Flight Rules) and cockpit with hood (Instrument Flight Rules). It is a two
piece system comprised of the trainer cabin and an instructor's station. The cabin, which resembles a toy aircraft with stubby wings, is attached to its base by means of a universal joint which allows movement on three axis in synchronisation with the pilot's flight path.
The cabin cockpit contains a single-seat, and a stick or yoke, a full lighted panel of flight instruments and communication to the trainer's station via headphones and microphone. Bellows, supplied with air by a pump in the base, move the cabin in three directions simulating for the trainee all manner of aircraft movements including pitch, roll, dive, climb, spin, pre-stall buffet, overspeed, etc. The air pump also supplies air for some of the instruments while a Telegon Oscillator controls the other instruments and vacuum tubes provide Analog simulator logic to the unit.
The trainer's station consists of a large glass-covered map table, a panel duplicating the gauges in the trainer, controls to alter flying conditions for the trainer, communications with the cabin, and a moving marker (plotter crab) which moves across the table plotting the pilot's track. From this station, an instructor can simulate just about any flying condition for the trainee.
While training or under evaluation, the pilot trainee would sit in the cockpit responding to directions directly from the instructor or in a pre-planned flight path just like with an actual aircraft. During flight, the trainee was required to respond to all types of situations, like changing wind directions or course deviations, thrown at him by the instructor.
One measure of success for the Link Trainer is its nomination as a Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers which is given to machines and devices showing innovative engineering and providing significant improvements to life. Other nominees honoured with this award include the Saturn V Rocket, Birome Ballpoint Pen Collection, Bay Area Rapid Transit system, Disneyland Monorail system, Evinrude Outboard Motor and Holt Caterpillar Tractor.
Ed Link died in 1981. While his Link Trainer washed-out the piloting dreams of many starry-eyed aircrew trainees, it can also be credited with saving the lives of many of its graduates who were allowed to learn solutions to flying problems before they turned deadly in the cockpit of an actual fighter or bomber in the air.
The Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum has an IFR version of the Link Trainer on display in Hangar No. 1 and a couple more in storage which, when space and funds are found for interpretation, may be displayed in a "As it Was" format.
The Link Trainer - Part II will be featured in our next Canada 150 vignette. It will have a couple of examples of Link Trainer related Pilot Poetry and a couple of stories gleaned from British Commonwealth Air Training Plan Station Magazines.
Information Sources for this vignette include The Atlantic Canada Aviation Museum, Wikipedia, L3 Communications, The Allstar Network, Canada National Defence - Air Force 16 Wing, and the National Museum of the USAF.
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