Crude pilot training aids had been designed even before World War 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, N.Y. 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 only on instruments.
The World War II era brought orders for thousands of Link trainers from the United States and many foreign countries. Although Army Air Forces aviation cadets flew various trainer aircraft, virtually all took blind-flying instruction in a 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 "Blue Box," which pointed the way to today's highly sophisticated and complex trainers.
Click here to return to the AAF Training During WWII Overview