The Link Flight Trainer

Written by Student Contributor Andrew Ahn – Fayetteville-Manlius High School

As military aviation technology continues to advance and become more complex, the technology with which we train pilots must also keep up. The first commercially available flight simulator was first prototyped in 1929 by Edwin A. Link and was known as the “Link Trainer”. The trainer operated on a pneumatic motion platform (it used pressurized gas propelled by inflatable bellows (driven by a vacuum pump) in order to move). The movements of the trainer replicated pitch (up/down nose), yaw (left/right nose), and roll (up/down wing). The trainer was complete with a basic cockpit, which allowed the pilot to use real controls to move the trainer.

Aviation has made leaps and bounds since then, and the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter are widely regarded to be two of the most advanced fighter jets in the world. To complement such aircraft, advanced training systems are needed. Boeing designed a new pilot training system for the purpose of training those who would eventually pilot F-22 and F-35 jets, and released it on December 20th, 2016: The Boeing-Saab T-7A Red Hawk. The Red Hawk is projected to reach initial operational capability by 2024 and fully operational capability by 2034. The reason that this particular training system is so significant is that it is produced using a fundamentally different method than traditional aircraft.

The Red Hawk was created using new digital aerospace engineering processes, meaning that it was designed, modeled, and tested on a computer before a prototype was even built. The Red Hawk went from a first draft design on a computer to a perfected working prototype in just three years using this new process of computer design. This is in stark contrast to the F-35’s nearly 20 years of development. Model-based engineering allowed the software development of the Red Hawk to be completed in half the normal time, and 3D design tools made designs so precise that parts can be joined without the use of shims (material that fills spaces in between parts) and require the use of just one master tool, decreasing assembly time by 80%. The jet additionally completed thousands of miles of testing without ever actually taking off–doing years worth of testing in a matter of months in the virtual world.

The future of aircraft development/manufacturing has been changed by the Red Hawk training system, the goal of development now not being to predict/defend against a threat 25 years in the future, but rather to integrate emerging technology to quickly build aircraft for current threats. Since new aircraft are released every few years, the evolution of aircraft is expedited with more frequent leaps in technology. It seems that even nearly a century later, aircraft training systems are still revolutionizing our defense.

Read more about the Link Flight Trainer and even experience the training system yourself in the MOST’s Flight and Space Exhibit! This exhibit is made possible by our generous sponsor, Lockheed Martin, the creator of some of today’s greatest aircraft.