Link Flight Trainer

You might be surprised to learn that flight simulators didn’t start with the computer age. In fact, the first one was built out of a wooden barrel in 1910. The most popular early flight simulator was the Link Flight Trainer, built in nearby Binghamton beginning in 1929.

The Link trainer, built by Edwin A. Link, was an engineering marvel. Link used an electrically driven pneumatic motion system to realistically simulate movement of flight. It is driven by inflatable leather bellows and a vacuum motor, which controlled the pitch (nose up or down), roll (wing up or down), and yaw (nose left or right).

The first Link trainer was completed in 1929, and Link received his patent in 1931. At first, the only sales were to amusement parks. But demand increased in 1934 following the loss of six U.S. Army Air Corp pilots within one week.

The Army Air Corp bought six trainers, and the fledgling Link Aeronautical Corp. was flying high with orders from as far away as Japan and the Soviet Union. Link continually refined his machine and incorporated instruments, including an air speed indicator, altimeter, and artificial horizon, and branched out to create different simulators for different planes.

When World War II broke out, Link trainers proved their value as more than 10,000 trainers were used to train 500,000 Allied pilots. A report submitted to Congress after the war credited the Link trainer with saving $130 million and at least 524 lives.

Today, Link Aviation is L-3 Link Simulation & Training, a Binghamton-area division of New York City-based L3 Technologies Inc., and remains a leading supplier of advanced simulation systems and training services.

Link Hall at Syracuse University, where the MOST’s trainer was previously housed, is named after Edwin Link. He died in 1981.

Come see our Link Flight Trainer, which is housed in the Flight & Space exhibit.