A New Display for the Link Trainer

Story and photos by John Chalmers,
CAHS Membership Secretary


One of the newest displays at the Alberta Aviation Museum in Edmonton is based on the famous Link Trainer, used to provide simulation training for pilots during the Second World War. A far cry from today’s simulators for jet airliners and other aircraft, the Link Trainer was produced from the 1930s to the 1950s by Link Aviation Devices, founded by Edwin Link. It’s probably a safe bet that the trainer was used by every pilot trainee in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan.


The Link Trainer display at the museum includes two of the trainers as well as the adjacent equipment such as the “crab” used at a desk to plot the simulated flights, and the intercom radio for instructors to speak with trainees in the cockpit.


Of note is that the display’s trainers are staffed by women members of the RCAF. As well, a mannequin representing trainer Margaret Littlewood is a key component of the exhibit. She is seen wearing a blazer with a crest bearing the name, Empire Air Training. The cover for the cockpit could be closed for simulation of night or instrument flying.


Margaret was hired by Captain Wop May to come to Edmonton as a Link Trainer instructor at No. 2 Air Observer School (AOS) based at the 1941 hangar that is now home to the Alberta Aviation Museum. An accomplished pilot with a number of licences, Margaret served as a civilian instructor for No. 2 AOS. A sign at the display is a tribute to her, and there is a must-read item about her at the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum here.


The scene in this photo from No. 2 Air Observer School in April 1944, showing Margaret Littlewood and a trainee in a Link Trainer, is replicated in the display at the Alberta Aviation Museum. A classic Link Trainer is located in at least a dozen Canadian aviation museums. The display was made possible by a grant of $2,100 from the Canadian 99s for the museum when it received the Canadian Award in Aviation for 2018. The successful grant application was made by assistant curator Ryan Lee. The Award was established in 1974 to promote aviation within Canada.


At the museum, the display is adjacent to a restored Avro Anson, the type flown from the hangar during the war when it served as home for both No. 2 AOS for navigators and No. 16 Elementary Flying Training School for pilots learning their skills in de Havilland Tiger Moth and Fleet Finch aircraft. The Anson also provided multi-engine experience for the pilots. Dr. Lech Lebiedowski, curator and archivist at the Alberta Museum, designed the exhibit, as well as all others telling the story of aircraft displayed at the museum. Construction of the displays is done by museum volunteers, who are also involved in restoration projects, including aircraft in the collection.

During the war, my father earned his navigator wing at No. 2 AOS. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had his Link Trainer experience under the direction of Margaret Littlewood!