Flying on the Ground Part 1
Norfolk & Suffolk Aviation Museum talks about the history of flight simulators, Link flight trainers at the museum and offering visitors the chance to experience what it would be like to pilot a plane.
In the late 1920s, Edwin Link decided that with flying taking off so to speak there was an opportunity. His father owned the Link Piano and Organ Company so he used his expertise to create a simulator that responded to the pilot’s input by moving the trainer, and accurately representing flight on the instruments. This was initially proposed as an amusement.
When the flying of mail in the United States passed from the military to civilian contractors, and flying had to be to a timetable and not the weather, the crash rate soared. It quickly became obvious that Link’s trainer was a good way to train pilots already conversant with the basics of day time flying in good weather on how to fly using instruments alone.
The trainers entered service in the early 1930s, and were in production until the 1950s when more advanced systems began to become available. Almost all combatant nations during World War II used them for instrument and continuation training. It was a source of discontent that even pilots who were flying their aircraft in the dark, on foul nights, over endless oceans, had to complete an hour in the Link Trainer every month.
Due to Edwin’s knowledge of air movement in organs and pianolas he used that technology to move his Link Trainers. The main suction is provided by a vacuum pump which as the controls move causes differential vacuum to be applied to four bellows, one at the front, one at the back, and one each side. In addition, a complex arrangement allows the unit to turn through 360o as many times as desired, no cables or pipes restrict this. In order to tilt the nose down vacuum is applied to the front bellows which are connected to the cradle at one end and the cockpit at the other.
A “crab” moved around a desktop to show the instructor where the pilot was manoeuvring. This moved via three wheels that turned as the trainer turned. The table also contained duplicates of some of the instruments. On later versions, the instructor could set the wind speed and direction to simulate drift. Later versions also allowed instruments to be failed, and for radio navigation via beacons to be simulated.
The museum has two complete, and two incomplete, Link Trainers on display.
The two complete ones both function, one is an ANT-18 version from World War II, the other a later D-4 version from the 1950s. The ANT-18 works very well, especially for a 75 year old piece of engineering. The D4 however reversed the bellows operation. Static was all bellows energised and air was bled in to selected bellows reducing pull. We currently have a problem with the D-4 and this is why it is so difficult to find the fault.
The other two are shells. One (another ANT-18) houses a computer based flight simulator. The other has instruments still, and control column etc. However, we do not have the “table” so it can not be made to work (even if we had the space to put it). It is opened up when the area is staffed so that children (and big children) can sit in it. On that basis, it has flown a great many miles in imaginations.
Further details can be found on our web site at https://www.aviationmuseum.net/Flighttraining.htm
When can I fly
Whenever schools visit the museum they rotate around different areas, one of these is always “Flight Training” where they each have a ride in either a Link Trainer or on one of the two computer based flight simulators.
On Scout Days Flight Training is also a thirty minute base when the youngsters can again have a flight in either a Link or on the computer.
On event days the area is usually staffed and visitors can try their hand at “flying” in exchange for a donation.