I have logged in excess of 3,000 hours in a Redbird FMX Advanced Aviation Training Device. These are the devices that are mounted on cradles that provide the unit with pitch, yaw, and roll. One of the biggest surprises for the trainees who have been “flying” using the Microsoft Flight Simulator program and then try to fly the FMX is how quickly their instrument scan and aircraft control goes askance when the dimension of movement is added to the equation.
I was thinking about this yesterday when I climbed into a Link Trainer at the Museum of Flight Restoration Center at Snohomish County Airport/Paine Field (KPAE). For the unfamiliar, the Link Trainer was designed in the 1920s by Edwin Link of Binghamton, New York. During World War II, Link trainers were used extensively to train pilots to fly by instruments.
You’ve probably seen one of these in a museum or in historic newsreel footage that shows a cartoon-like aircraft (reminiscent of a carnival ride) spinning on the floor of a hangar while serious-looking air cadets try to learn the ins and outs of IFR flying. The devices are about the size of a small car, and are mounted on a mechanical cradle. Cables run from the sim cab to a desk where an instructor has a console to put the pilot through his (or her) paces. It is very, very rare to find one that still functions, as most are relegated to static display at aviation museums.