Edwin Albert Link was born on July 26, 1904 in Huntington, Indiana. He spent most of his youth in upstate New York. In 1927, he received his airplane pilot’s license. While working at his father’s organ factory in Binghamton, N.Y., Ed applied what he learned about pneumatic systems to invent the Link Trainer. Known as the Blue Box or the Pilot Maker, Link’s invention was the first to simulate flying an airplane in a mock cockpit with a wooden fuselage. Mounted on an organ bellows, a vacuum pump operated the bellows and gave the fuselage the flight effects of pitch and roll.
In the early years, Link could only attract interest in his trainer as a ride in amusement parks. His trainer became serious business when the Army Corps placed an order for six of his trainers they wanted to use for instrument training of mail-carrying pilots during all-weather flights. This small contract led to Link’s company turning out a trainer every 45 minutes and employing 1,500 people at its peak during WWII. Half a million military pilots safely learned to operate an airplane using Ed Link’s unique trainer, earning him the title “Father of Flight Simulation.”
By the early 1950’s, electronic flight simulators used computer technology, widely expanding training for all aspects of aviation procedures from take-off to landing. Ed Link was President and Chairman of the Board of Link Aviation, Inc. until its merger with General Precision Equipment Corporation in 1954, which he served as director and president. General Precision merged in 1968 with The Singer Company. Today, the simulation industry has grown into a multi-billion dollar business that trains pilots, astronauts, maritime vessel and military equipment operators.
Link’s corporate success and his awareness of the necessity of technical education led him to establish a non-profit foundation to support research and education in his two main endeavors, aeronautics and oceanography. Since 1953, the Link Foundation has awarded over 15 million dollars in grants to foster research, training and education through doctoral fellowships and scholarships at universities and non-profit organizations.
In the 1950’s, Ed Link turned his attention from sky to sea as an outgrowth of his increasing interest in underwater exploration and safe diving equipment. By the late 1950’s, after several Caribbean expeditions, Ed link supervised the construction of his own 100 foot vessel specifically designed for underwater research. Named Sea Diver II, Link took her maiden voyage to Port Royal, Jamaica to explore the sunken city. This initial venture led to research that would occupy Ed Link for the rest of his days.
In 1960, Link set sail for a three-year archaeological expedition in the Mediterranean Sea. Ed Link tested the Submersible Decompression Chamber (SDC) he designed for divers to work and live underwater for extended periods. Link’s Man-In-Sea programs began in the early 1960’s after he received a commitment from the National Geographic Society to publish his findings.
Using the SDC, Link supervised a 430- foot dive off Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas with divers Robert Stenuit and Jon Lindberg, whose father was famous aviator Charles Lindberg. Following the success of this deep dive, The Singer Company, Union Carbine, and Ed Link formed Ocean Systems Inc. a marine engineering services company to develop unwater services and support systems.
Around the same time, John Perry joined Ed Link to design and build a four-man lockout submersible they named Deep Diver. It was the first submersible with an exit hatch for divers who worked at great depths in the ocean.
Ed Link purchased a deserted mining channel between Vero Beach and Fort Pierce, Florida in 1969. Named Link Port, it provided a permanent base for Sea Diver II. In 1971, it became the site for the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, a research facility for marine science and ocean engineering founded by J. Seward Johnson, Sr. There, Ed Link designed a lighter submersible named the Johnson-Sea-Link. A frame made of aluminum alloy held the diver’s compartment, battery pods, and other component parts. The pilot/observer’s compartment was made of transparent acrylic sphere so they nicknamed it the Bubble.
In the early 1970’s, the Johnson-Sea-Link became entangled in the wreckage of an old destroyer off the Florida coast. One of the divers, Ed Link’s son Clayton, died tragically because there was no way to rescue him before he ran out of air so deep beneath the sea. Ed devoted the next two years assisting the design of an unmanned remote control rescue vehicle called CORD (standing for Cabled Observation and Rescue Devise) to work in conjunction with a surface ship. The CORD employed television cameras, lights, plus hydraulic-powered claws and cutters to free a trapped submersible. It was one of the first (ROVs) Remotely Operated Vehicles.
Link also established the Link Antique Steam Foundation, Inc. for research and education relating to energy sources. This interest led the Link Foundation to provide grant fellowships in energy.
Ed Link’s contributions to the worlds of aviation and oceanology brought him recognition from many universities and organizations. He received honorary degrees from Tufts University, Hamilton College, State University of New York at Binghamton, Syracuse University, and Florida Institute of Technology. Other honors he received included: The Franklin Institute Howard N. Potts Medal; the Wakefield Gold Medal from the Royal Aeronautical Society in London; The Underwater Society of America; the NOGI Award for Science; Matthew Fontaine Maury Medal from the Smithsonian Institution; the OX5 Club Aviation Hall of Fame; the International Oceanographic Foundation Gold Medal Award; the Lindbergh Award; and the Florida Inventor’s Hall of Fame.
Edwin A. Link died on September 7, 1981. A few days before his death, the city of Binghamton in New York honored him by renaming its airport Edwin A. Link Field.
Marion Clayton Link was born on November 15, 1907 in Ilion, New York. She graduated with a B.S. degree from Syracuse University School of Journalism. After graduation, she moved to Binghamton, New York, where she worked as a reporter for the Binghamton Press and interviewed Ed Link for a news story in 1930. A year later, they married, and she was fond of saying, “I married my best story.” What she did not say was what a strong partner she turned out to be for her husband’s pursuits. She began by helping her husband develop Link Aviation, Inc. until the birth of their first son, William Martin Link, on January 1, 1938. Their second son, Edwin Clayton Link, was born on November 30, 1941.
As Ed turned to discovering what lay beneath the sea, Marion was by his side documenting his archeological underwater excavations, publishing books about their findings and the equipment he designed and tested deep in the ocean. She was a diver and fully immersed herself in his work. Recording their experiences exploring shipwrecks in the Florida Keys, the Bahamas, Haiti and the reefs south of Jamaica, Marion’s first book, Sea Diver, received wide acclaim in 1959.
Marion Link contributed to scholarly and scientific study, writing archaeological research reports for National Geographic and Smithsonian Institution expeditions and publishing numerous articles. Marion and Ed Link together published A New Theory on Columbus's Voyage Through the Bahamas, which appeared in 1958 as volume 135, number 4 of the Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections. Marion published Windows in the Sea in 1973. From Sky to Sea, written with Susan van Hoek, was published in 1993, using excerpts from Marion's personal diaries and journals.
In 1961, Binghamton Chamber of Commerce awarded Marion the History Hunters Award and Syracuse University awarded her the George Arents Pioneer medal for excellence in archeology. She received the Alumni Association's Distinguished Service Award in 1974. The Harpur Forum Committee of the Binghamton University Foundation honored Marion and Ed with Distinguished Citizenship awards in 1978 and 1980.
The educational philanthropic tradition that Ed and Marion began with the Link Foundation was carried forward. In 1993, the Marion Clayton Link Endowment in Creative Writing at Binghamton University was established by the family in her honor. The Link Library Information Network Endowment was established in 1997 in Marion’s honor. The gift lay the foundation for the future of online information at Evans Library.
The Marion C. Link Electronic Library was established in 1998 at the Indian River State College Mueller Center through a generous bequest from the late Marion Clayton Link. The Marion C. Link Electronic Library was renamed the Marion C. Link Library Lab. This library lab is now part of the Brackett Library, which was dedicated in October 2009. She also established an endowment to fund the annual Stanton C. Craigie Memorial Master’s Swim Meet at IRCC; funded scientific and technological equipment for the IRSC Science Center, resulting in the naming of the Clayton-Link Lab; and helped support the IRSC Foundation’s efforts to provide free presentations to children in the Hallstrom Planetarium.
Marion Clayton Link died at Link Port in Fort Pierce, Florida, on March 30, 1995.