Curator’s Corner

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The Link Trainer and The British Commonwealth Air Training Plan
Article and Photos by: Frank MacLoon – March 2001

One of the long-standing objectives of the Museum has been to develop a really effective presentation of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP).

A number of these training establishments operated in the Maritimes. The training of pilots at the Elementary Flying Training Schools (EFTS), and of Air Observers at the Air Observers Schools (AOS) was moreover almost entirely conducted at civilian operated training schools of which three operated in this region.

Some 131,533 aircrew, including 49,808 pilots were trained under this program which Winston Churchill referred to as “one of the major factors, if not the decisive factor of the war”.

Among these training schools was #17 EFTS at Stanley, N.S., operated by the Halifax Flying Club. With Fleet Finch and Tiger Moth biplane aircraft this school made a substantial contribution to the success of the pilot training program. It was certainly a significant event in Nova Scotia’s aviation heritage.

Over the years many priceless artifacts have been collected by the Museum for eventual inclusion in a display that will ensure future generations do not forget this part of our heritage nor the many instructors, both civilian and military, who lost their lives in this magnificent effort.

Harvard aircraft were also employed at Maritime BCATP schools, and the example loaned to our Museum by the Canadian Aviation Museum in Ottawa will indeed be a centrepiece of this display. Also, one of our members has undertaken to construct a reproduction of a Tiger Moth aircraft such as used at Stanley and we already have on display a Link Trainer typical of those used at virtually every level of pilot training during those critical years.

The Link Trainer, an early version of the complex simulators now made possible by modern technology, was a vital component of the training program and allowed experience, particularly in “blind” flying techniques, to be obtained without the risks of flying an actual aircraft. It was also used to filter out those who might not have the necessary aptitude for flying.

Edwin Albert Link of Binghampton, N.Y. who, with his brother, operated a flight training school, developed the Link. It was first demonstrated in 1931 and in it’s first version operated on a set of organ bellows borrowed from his father’s factory. It was originally marketed as an entertainment device but by 1934 had established itself as an important training aid.

In 1937 production began at a Canadian plant in Gananoque, Ont and, by the beginning of World War II, the Link was in use by some 35 countries. In 1940, 200 were purchased for the BCATP becoming a vital component in pilot training.

The Link Trainer is basically a miniature aircraft anchored to the floor through a universal joint. The trainee sat in the cockpit, which was fitted with complete flying controls and instrumentation. With the hood closed the student had to rely totally on instrumentation as he undertook simulated “blind” flight as would be experienced under adverse weather conditions or night flying.

All elements of flight could be demonstrated from the effect of variations in engine power through to stalls and spins.

The Link was powered through a series of bellows and electric motors that allowed it to move in all axis providing an amazingly realistic and effective simulation of actual flight.

The instructor sat at a control desk where he communicated with the student through a telephone link while the course being flown during the exercise was followed on a map with a recording plotter referred to as a “crab”.

Wartime trained pilots have many memories of the Link. Former Spitfire pilot Arthur Jewett recalls many hours in the Link at all levels of his training along with simulated flights over the Ontario landscape. He recalls that the Link “could very easily get you into trouble” and that it “was more difficult to control than the aircraft we were then flying”. A former Link instructor was quoted as saying that “it did everything that the aircraft would do. If you made a mistake in the air, it was serious; if you made a mistake and crashed the Link, it was only on paper.”

Ted Barris has written a marvellous book titled “Beyond the Glory: The Plan that Won the Allied Air War”. It is the story of the BCATP and the people whose efforts and sacrifices made it such a success. In this he records some lines of a poem written by then airman Carrol McLeod that describes the Link Trainer in the words of a mythical person with only a limited ability in his second language titled “Dat Goddam Bird de Link”.

    • For two t’ree mont’ my brudder Pierre,
      Take course on “Link” to fly de h’air
      Dat “Link” she’s plane of speciale make,
      On first solo your nerves she shake,
      You take him off wit’ nose to sky –
      But dat goddam t’ing to floor she’s tie.

ACAM has a mint example on display that was donated it to by the then Halifax Flying Club through the efforts of long term member Bill Orr. It is understood that it had actually been utilized in the BCATP training program at Summerside, P.E.I.

Through the generosity of Mrs Merle Johnston of Waverley N.S. the museum received, in 1989, a large supply of spare parts, which are preserved for future use. Clearly the Link can be made operational and could become an interactive item for special events at some future date, as the BCATP display is brought to it’s full potential.

As is necessarily the case in a volunteer organization it will take time to bring together all the elements of a fully effective display. When completed it will help ensure that the events of an outstanding period in Canada’s, and Nova Scotia’s aviation heritage will not be forgotten. With ACAM’s demonstrated success at undertaking and completing some amazing development efforts this will be something to look forward to.

In the meantime the Link is another in the extremely interesting exhibits to be experienced at the Museum.

An Interview with Curator Reg Clarke November 2000

After 22 years as the Curator of the Atlantic Canada Aviation Museum, Reg Clarke has seen a number of changes in our Museum. With over 6,500 artifacts in ACAM’s collection, Reg spends most of his time cataloguing acquisitions for the Museum. “We are very fortunate to have a good selection of documentation and an exceptional uniform collection. As well, we have a good overall sampling of aircraft.”

When asked where he felt that ACAM needed improvement Reg replied, “A high wing monoplane, such as a Cessna 172, would be a valuable addition. We need to increase our civilian aircraft numbers and add a few more engines as well as some specific uniforms to finish certain groups of uniforms” Reg also noted our need for some more interactive displays for the public to use. In addition, to improve the Museum’s audit standing with the Nova Scotia Museum, the collection needs to be computerized and storage of artifacts needs to be improved. Both of these items are in the process of being addressed, however, more participation will be needed from the membership to help the Curator accomplish these goals before our next audit.

While there will always be room for improvement, Reg has been very excited about the improvements that have been made to the Museum in the last few years. “The last three to four years have seen ACAM move from a collection to more of a Museum. This is due to the great job done by the membership. Guys recognize work that has to be done and they set some goals and accomplish them, its fantastic.” Reg Clarke is the type of man that passes along good compliments on work. It is not unusual to hear “good job!” or “that’s super guys!” from this man.

Currently Reg is working on expanding the Old Halifax Airport display and Andy Anderson display. He is also building new displays for the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, which includes: First NAGS in Yarmouth, #36 OTU and Stanley.

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