Edwin Link had developed a passion for flying in his boyhood years, but was not able to afford the high cost of flying. So, upon leaving school in 1927 he started developing a simulator, an exercise which took him 18 months.
His first pilot trainer, which debuted in 1929, resembled a toy airplane from the outside, with short wooden wings and fuselage mounted on a universal joint. Organ bellows from the Link organ factory, the business his family owned and operated in Binghamton, NY, driven by an electric pump, made the trainer pitch and roll as the pilot worked the controls.
Link's first military sales came as a result of the Air Mail scandal, when the Army Air Corps took over carriage of U.S. Air Mail. Twelve pilots were killed in a 78 day period, due to their unfamiliarity with Instrument Flying Conditions. The large scale loss of life prompted the Air Corps to look at a number of solutions, including Link's pilot trainer.
The Air Corps was given a stark demonstration of the potential of instrument training when, in 1934, Link flew in to a meeting in conditions of fog that the Air Corps evaluation team regarded as unflyable. As a result, the Air Corps ordered the first six pilot trainers at $3,500 each.
The company expanded rapidly, and during World War II the ANT-18 Basic Instrument Trainer, known to tens of thousands of fledging pilots as the Blue Box (although it was painted in colors other than blue in other countries), was standard equipment at every air training school in the United States and Allied nations. In fact, during the war years Link produced over 10,000 Blue Boxes, turning one out every 45 minutes
More than 500,000 US pilots were trained on Link simulators, as were pilots of nations as diverse as Australia, Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Israel, Japan and the USSR.
The Link Flight Trainer has been designated as A Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
The Link Company, now part of L-3 Communications, continues to make aerospace simulators.