Edwin A. Link (1904 - 1981) moved, with his family, from Indiana to Binghamton, NY, where his father had established the Link Piano and Organ Company. He dropped out of high school and went to work for his father. He learned to build and repair organs, and just about any other machine that needed fixing, experience that would prove to be invaluable. However, all he really wanted to do, was fly.
He needed to scrape together the funds for flying lessons and plane rentals. When his father heard of his flying escapades, he fired him. Fortunately, he was soon rehired. At 24, he persuaded his mother to lend him the money for his first plane. He then spent his spare time giving flying lessons, making air deliveries, and barnstorming at air shows to earn the funds for the loan repayment.
As he struggled with the high costs of learning to fly, he reasoned that a device that simulated the motions of an aircraft could reduce the time needed to train pilots. For 18 months he worked on this idea in the basement of the organ factory, naming his trainer the Pilot Maker.
His sales were few but he was determined and eventually enabled it to simulate different weather conditions which would allow pilots to "fly blind", ie, by their instruments and without reference to the landscape below.
By 1934, he was running out of money. So, he made contact with the US Army Air Corps, pleading for the opportunity to demonstrate his technology. The Corps agreed and on "the" day, Ed took off from Binghamton and flew to the field at Newark, NJ, landing in a "pea soup" fog without incident! The Corps soon followed with an $21,000 order for 6 simulators and Ed was "on his way". [Editor's note: The US Postal Service had contracted with the Air Corps to deliver mail. Sadly, within a month or two, the Corps lost nearly a dozen planes and pilots - all the crashes were in bad weather. Ed's making contact for the demonstration proved to be a life changer, and life saver.]
Before and during WWII, Britain had restrictions on buying war goods from non-Commonwealth countries. Link realized that business would only increase if he had a plant in Canada. He owned an island east of Gananoque, Perch Island, and frequently flew from Binghamton in his amphibious plane to his cottage. As he always checked in with Customs and Immigration at Gananoque, he got to know the collector of Customs, Ken Mullins. One day he asked Mullins if he knew of a location where he could manufacture Link Trainers, and who he could recommend as its manager. Mullins suggested Keith Taylor and in 1938, the first Link Trainer was built in what became known as the “Link Plant”, later known as the “Cliffe Craft Boat Buildings” and now vacant. Over 5,000 Link Trainers were built in Gananoque and with over 200 employees it was one of the town's most-important businesses.
The importance of the Link Trainer, in a larger context, was clearly indentified when Winston Churchill, in a speech to the House of Commons, told the House that without the Link trainer the "Battle of Britain" would not have been won.Today, there are only three-living employees from the plant but many family members recall those crucial years, and the pivotal role played by the employees.
During the war years, Ed had another vision that of developing a trainer that would assist pilots in water landings and take-offs. He developed the "Aqua Trainer". Unfortunately,with the development of aircraft carriers, the interest in seaplanes declined and only one “Aqua Trainer” prototype was built.
It is now on permanent display at Clayton, NY, in the Antique Boat Museum. Also on exhibit, at Gananoque’s Arthur Child Heritage Museum, is a fully-equipped “Link Trainer” - it is part of an important exhibit commemorating Gananoque’s history from 1895-1945.
When Ed Link died, he held over 30 patents and he had been a major contributor to the establishment of philanthropic foundations for research in aquaculture, undersea rescue, and undersea mining.
His “Link Trainer” made modern aviation possible and he was, truly, an aviation pioneer.
By John and Jim Taylor, Gananoque, ON.
Author's note: We encourage everyone to see the display at the Arthur Child Heritage Museum. It gives a wonderful-and-interesting picture of Gananoque's colourful history.
The article on the "Link Trainer" was prepared by the sons of Keith Taylor. As children, they grew up knowing the Link family and their parents were very good friends of Ed and Marion Link. Jim and John still live in Gananoque and summer on Tremont Park Island.