First designed in 1929, Ed Link established the Link Aviation Devices, Inc. out of his orchestrion business to fill a need in the growing field of air travel. At that point in time, pilots were rarely trained to fly by instruments, and relied on clear weather to be able to see where they were going. This was rarely a problem on a sunny day; however, adverse conditions proved quite dangerous. This led to many accidents and an awareness of the need for proper training of pilots.
Link incorporated much of the pneumatic technology of nickelodeons to create an accurate simulation of air flight. He received his first patents for the trainer in 1931. Sales were slow at first, in fact, he only had success garnering interest from amusement parks. Then, in 1934, the United States Army Air Corps received the assignment to deliver mail by air. It proved to be a highly dangerous assignment, and many under-trained pilots died in flying accidents. The government was still reluctant to consider purchasing Link's trainers but willing to meet with him. They were waiting for his arrival at the airport in Newark, New Jersey, sure he could not land due to poor weather conditions. About to depart, they heard his plane's approach and became convinced of the merits of his simulator. They bought six in 1934, and have never looked back. By World War II, every Allied nation trained their pilots to fly using Link Trainers. In the U.S. military alone, more than 500,000 American pilots were tested in his “blue boxes,” called such because of the dark blue paint used during production. At the peak of production during the war, one trainer was made every 45 minutes, amounting to ten thousand made in four years.
Ed Link phased himself out of the company during the 1950's so that he could focus on a new obsession: going underwater. He developed his own small submersibles and seafloor decompression chambers, but Link continued making Trainers for the military through the wars in Korea and Vietnam. They even developing a simulator for NASA to train astronauts involved in the Apollo program. Link remained an independent company until 1988, when it became part of the Hughes Aircraft Company. Hughes then merged Link with another acquisition they made that year: the Honeywell Inc.'s Training and Control Systems Division. The coupling proved to be a great match, as Link and Honeywell together produced expert trainers for the much more sophisticated planes sold to the military at the time. Pneumatics were no longer incorporated in the machines, but the increasingly digital simulators complemented advances in the nuances of flight. Eventually, after a few more mergers and sales, Link became the property of L-3 Technologies, which specializes to this day in aerospace and communications systems for military defense.