In 1927, when Edwin Link first pitched the idea of a flight simulator that could be used to train new pilots on the ground – a device he dubbed the “Link trainer” – the US Army Air Force flatly rejected it. The device was conceived in earnest. Link, an electrician and amateur pilot, was unimpressed with amount of real-life flight training available to him. Fueled by his dissatisfaction, he built a ground-based simulator, which featured a pneumatic motion platform, an electric motor, and a fully functioning replica cockpit. Despite the novelty of such a device in 1927, Link couldn’t convince anyone in the industry – not just the military, but also private aviation schools – that the simulator would ever serve a meaningful purpose in pilot training.
But in 1934, something changed. The US Army Air Force won a contract to deliver mail by aircraft, a duty that required pilots to fly daily, rain or shine, in optimal conditions or dangerous ones. After dozens of pilots were killed in the first few weeks of the contract, the Air Force remembered Link and his flight simulator. Seven years later, they understood the value of the Link trainer: It was an opportunity for pilots to practice life-saving skills in a low-stakes, ground-based model before venturing into often threatening skies.
The rest, of course, is history.