Link Trainer Memories
I thoroughly enjoyed Richard Bauman’s article in your May issue about the Link Trainer. There is no question Ed Link revolutionized instrument flight training, and although almost primitive by today’s standards, the familiar blue and yellow Link Trainer was a major factor in the development of competent instrument pilots during World War II.
In October 1942, I joined the U.S. Army Air Corps as an enlisted airman in the 503rd Single Engine Flying Training Squadron at Moore Field in Mission, Texas. The 503rd flew mostly North American AT-6s, equipped with two .30-caliber machine guns. Gunnery training took place over the Gulf of Mexico.
Our squadron was equipped with probably 20 or 30 Link Trainers located in a large hangar-like structure. Although our airplanes flew around the clock in three eight-hour shifts, the Links only operated the first two shifts; the third shift, from midnight to 8 a.m., was reserved for maintenance, cleanup and other duties required to keep the Links operational. The cleanup issue was not incidental, as some students, when placed under the hood of the trainer and subjected to the rough air mode for the first time, needed a barf bag—which they weren’t always successful in using.
The plus side for the enlisted personnel assigned to midnight duty was that when our work was completed no one objected to our using the Links for instrument practice. I soon had more under-hood instrument time than real-life hours, even though I came to the Army from a Civilian Pilot Training Program. Several of us got very good at instrument flying and would hold competitions among ourselves to see if we could write our names on the instructor’s desk pad with the “crab,” the movable position readout device that traced the Link flight path in a red line on the instructor’s chart.
Half a dozen or so of our Links were equipped with compressed-air .177-caliber BB machine guns and faced simulated terrain, with moving tanks, trucks, trains and anti-aircraft gun emplacements. These particular Links could only move from side to side about 60 degrees because, young men being what they are, they would soon train their high-school weaponry on another Link 20 feet away, something the military obviously sought to avoid. The hoods had been removed in the Links in this shooting gallery, but everything else remained operational. The stick had a trigger, and the gun switches were located in the same place as on our AT-6s, so the N-3 gunsight became a familiar and quite accurate aiming tool. The BBs were captured in a trough at the rear of the simulated terrain, run through a wash process and then reused.
Unfortunately, after about a year in the 503rd, I and dozens of others were involuntarily transferred to the infantry. I spent the balance of my almost four years in the military with the 78th Infantry Division, much of it in the ETO. After the war I went on to earn a commercial pilot’s certificate with multi-engine, instrument and float ratings. I sold my airplane some five years ago, at which time I had almost 6,000 hours. At age 86, it seemed like the right thing to do.
As a longtime Aviation History subscriber, I find your articles factual and interesting. Both World War I and World War II produced enormous advancements in aviation, and some of the more obscure developments deserve documentation. Your article on the “Forgotten Bomber,” the Martin A-30, is a good example. Until I read the May issue, I didn’t even know it existed.
Gordon H. Millar, P.E.
Port Orange, Fla.
I especially enjoyed the article by Robert F. Dorr, “Why the P-38 Flunked in Europe,” in the May issue. I had often read that the P-38 was somewhat ill-suited for the high-altitude escort mission in the ETO, but Dorr’s article did an excellent job of citing the reasons for its subpar performance. I take exception, however, to one statement: “…the first P-51 Mustangs entered service with the 354th Fighter Group, whose airmen never flew any other fighter once they reached England.”
In November 1944, the 354th Fighter Group, part of the Ninth Air Force, did the exact opposite of what most fighter groups in the Eighth Air Force were doing or had already done by that time. The 354th transitioned from their P-51 Mustangs to P-47 Thunderbolts, the thinking apparently being that the Thunderbolt was better suited to the ground-attack mission with which the 354th was being tasked. The “Pioneer Mustang Group” switched back to their beloved Mustangs in mid-February 1945, and continued flying them up through V-E Day.
I read with great interest your P-38 article. Back in the early ’80s, while I was at Beech Aircraft, I had lunch with Tony LeVier when he was visiting Beech. He spoke extensively about the P-38 engine problems, which he was involved with at Lockheed during WWII. He said one of the problems at high altitude was the oil foaming under the reduced air pressure. When a clump of foam hit the crankshaft bearings, they failed. The Merlin engine had a pressurized crankcase, which prevented this problem, while the P-38’s Allisons did not. He said the Allison leaked oil bad enough with an unpressurized oil system, and they didn’t think pressurizing it was a viable solution. He also said that it was never a difficulty in the Pacific, where the Japanese never flew at high altitude.
Tony said he had experienced 55 engine failures at altitude in the P-38 during production flight tests out of Burbank. He also said that he got to where he could feel it coming on and was ready for it. He was a truly remarkable gentleman, as well as one of the greatest pilots ever.
William E. Brown
Send letters to Aviation History Editor, World History Group, 19300 Promenade Drive, Leesburg, VA 20176-6500, or e-mail to email@example.com.