Prepare for Flight

In Uncategorized on December 5, 2015 by hillermuseum


1942 Link Trainer Instrumentation

           1942 Link Trainer Instrumentation

Flight Training Devices and Flight Simulation
By Jon Welte

Over a century ago on a sandy dune near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, two brothers prepared a brand-new machine for its first attempt at sustained, controlled, heavier-than-air flight. Witnesses were gathered, hand signals exchanged, and amid a whirl of propellers the aircraft trundled down its launching track. Reaching the end of the takeoff run, the pilot pitched the aircraft up into the air—and promptly stalled and crashed.

Wilbur Wright’s December 14th, 1903 mishap is not remembered nearly so well as Orville’s successful flight three days later, but in many ways paved the way for the younger brother’s triumph. When Wilbur first took the controls of the Flyer on December 14th, he had no flight instructor upon whom to rely. The original 1903 Flyer was unstable in pitch, leading Wilbur to over-rotate and stall the airplane. When Orville’s turn came on December 17th Wilbur shared his experience, making it possible for Orville to succeed.

Gaining the skills and experience needed to fly safely can seem daunting. A new customer to the Wrights’ bicycle shop might experience the occasional crash while learning to balance on two wheels, but minor bumps and bruises were seldom more than an inconvenience. A crash in flight training could prove fatal.

The Wrights were well aware of this, which was one reason they worked their way up to flying a powered airplane in 1903 by building and flying a series of gliders starting in 1900. Their 1902 design in particular evolved from being purely an experimental aircraft to something of a flight training device; after using it to master 3-axis control in 1902, the Wrights retained it and flew it again in 1903 to hone their skills before flying their new, powered aircraft.

With the onset of war in 1914, thousands of new pilots were needed. Inexperienced young men were sent aloft in aircraft perilously flimsy even by the standards of the day. The fatality rate of World War I pilots matched that of front line infantry, with many more killed in accidents than by the enemy. Many pilots were lost in training or in their first weeks with their units. Eager to stem the carnage, new means of training pilots without their leaving the ground were quickly developed.

French aviators started in airplanes rendered incapable of flight. During the war, Bleriot monoplanes were constructed with absurdly clipped wings. These “penguins” gave new cadets a workout, forcing them to learn how to operate the systems and controls of their airplanes while taxiing across the ground. Only when pilots demonstrated sufficient control of their ground-bound penguins could they operate flying aircraft. Penguins of various design continued to be used for flight training into the 1930s.

The face of flight training devices changed dramatically in 1929 as a result of the pioneering work of Edward Link. Repurposing technology used in his parents’ organ company, Link developed a flight simulation device that came to be known as the Link Trainer. The student sat within an enclosed cockpit that was moved by pneumatic bellows similar to those in pipe organs. Within the cockpit the student pilot used electrical and vacuum powered instruments to fly under simulated instrument conditions as a real pilot might experience flying through clouds, at night, or in areas of reduced visibility. An instructor sat at a desktop station outside the freely-moving cockpit and used a separate set of controls to simulate navigational aids, radio communications, and instrument failures.

Link’s invention initially garnered no interest on the part of commercial airlines, flight schools, or the military, its most likely customers. In 1934, however, the United States Army Air Corps took over responsibility for flying US Air Mail across remote areas of the country. The service was unprepared for the rigors of flying scheduled service, night and day, regardless of weather. A dozen pilots perished in less than three months, leading the service to re-evaluate Link’s design. Link famously flew himself to Washington, DC, to meet with the Army on a day when the Army considered the weather unflyable; it promptly ordered six of Link’s devices, the first of over ten thousand delivered—mostly during the years of World War II. More than half a million military pilots completed training in Link devices.

By the late 1970s, advances in desktop computing power made it possible to develop digital flight simulation devices far smaller than analog devices such as the Link. The first commercially available flight simulation program was produced by the subLOGIC corporation and released as Flight Simulator I, initially for Apple II computers in 1979. Desktop-based flight simulation used computer models of aircraft motion to recreate flight and portray an aircraft’s instrument panel on a display screen. The Flight Simulator franchise was supported by Microsoft from 1988 through 2009, and led to a generation of pilots and non-flying enthusiasts taking to the cockpit from the comfort of their home computer. Today, institutional users such as Lockheed Martin integrate powerful software with full motion flight training devices. Such sophisticated devices can be costly to build, maintain and operate, but provide training experience to pilots at a fraction of the expense of flying actual high end commercial and military aircraft.

The Hiller Aviation Museum has long been a repository of flight simulation history and expertise. It displays a recreation of a 1930-era Penguin airplane and an authentic pre-war Link Trainer, and since 2008 its Flight SIm Zone has made quality flight simulation available to the public. In May 2015 the Hiller Aviation Museum acquired a Redbird FMX full motion flight simulator, an FAA-approved flight training device that blends the motion cues with the high fidelity exterior views. Unlike similar devices installed at flight schools and airline training centers, the Museum’s FMX is open to the public most weekends and on select holidays. Come fly the FMX and experience how far ground-based flight instruction has come since Orville and Wilbur’s pioneering experiences on the sands of Kitty Hawk.



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