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The flight engineer's panel (right) on the Concorde aircraft.

The are three different categories of Flight Engineer, Fixed Wing, Rotary Wing (Helicopters), and Space Flight.

This entry refers to Fixed Wing Flight Engineers only.

History

The first airplanes only had a single operator: the pilot. The pilot was responsible for flying the airplane, navigating, and ensuring that all systems worked correctly. The pilot had to have a great deal of knowledge of the technical details of the airplane, or disaster could occur from mis-handling or failure to recognize and execute corrective action of a minor malfunction. There was also the danger of CFIT (Controlled Flight Into Terrain) due to loss of spatial awareness because the pilot was focused on trying to correct a malfunction.

As airplanes became more complex and as longer flight durations became possible, a co-pilot was added to the crew to spread the workload and enhance safety. The copilot assisted the pilot or airplane commander in the flying of the airplane. They would typically trade off actual flying duties to avoid problems of fatigue. They would also cross-check each other on critical operations, reducing the chances for unintended disasters. Both the pilot and copilot still needed to have a great deal of knowledge of the details of their airplane, since between them they had to resolve any problems that arose in flight.

As airplanes became even larger requiring more engines and complex systems to operate, the workload on the two pilots became excessive during certain critical parts of the flight regime, notably takeoffs and landings. Piston engines on aircraft required a great deal of attention throughout the flight with their multitude of gauges and indicators. Inattention or a missed indication could result in engine or propeller failure, and quite possibly cause loss of the airplane if prompt corrective action was not taken. In order to dedicate a person to monitoring the engines and other critical flight systems, the position of Flight Engineer was created. The Flight Engineer did not actually fly the airplane, instead the Flight Engineer had his own specialized control panel allowing him to monitor and control the various aircraft systems. The Flight Engineer is therefore an integrated member of the flight deck crew who works in close coordination with the two pilots during all phases of flight. The Flight Engineer position was usually placed on the main flight deck just aft of the pilot and copilot. The first commercial aircraft to include a flight engineer was the Boeing 307 but only ten were built before the onset of World War II; during the war the Avro Lancaster bomber required a flight engineer.

Duties

Flight Engineers monitor, set and adjust engine power during take off, climb, cruise and go-arounds, or any time the pilot flying requests the F.E. to set a specific power setting during descent and approach. F.E's also set and monitor the following systems during flight: pressurization, fuel, air conditioning, hydraulic, and electrical systems. F.E's are also responsible for preflight and postflight aircraft inspections. On aircraft where the F.E's station is located on the same flight deck just aft of the two pilots (all western three man deck aircraft), they also monitor aircraft flight path and cross check pilot selections.

On some military aircraft(C-5, KC-10) the Flight Engineer sits behind the co-pilot in the cockpit, facing sideways to operate a panel of switches, gauges and indicators, and on the Tupolev Tu-134 the flight engineer sits in the nose of the aircraft. On other western military aircraft F.E's sit between, slightly aft of, and slightly higher than the pilots, e.g the (P-3 Orion, C-130H) aircraft. The F.E's chair can travel forward, aft and it can swivel laterally 90 degrees, this enables him to face forward and set the engine power, move aft and rotate sideways to monitor and set the systems panel. The Flight Engineer is the aircraft systems expert onboard and responsible for troubleshooting and suggesting solutions to in-flight emergencies and abnormal technical conditions, as well as computing takeoff and landing data.

The basic philosophy of a three man flight deck on western aircraft should an abnormality or emergency arise is as follows, the Captain hands over the actual flying of the aircraft to the Copilot, then the Captain and Flight Engineer together review and carry out the necessary actions required to contain and rectify the problem, this spreads the workload and ensures a system of cross checking which maximizes safety. The Captain is the manager and decision maker (Pilot Not Flying, PNF), the First Officer/Copilot is the actual flyer of the aircraft (Pilot Flying, PF), the Flight Engineer reads the check-lists and executes actions required under the auspices of the Captain, (PNF). There can be occasions when the roles of the pilots during a emergency are reversed, i.e. The Copilot becomes the PNF and the Captain becomes the PF, one such example was on the A300 B-Series aircraft when there was a complete loss of generator supplied electrical power, whereupon the standby instruments that were powered was on the Captains side only, this required the Captain to be PF, the PNF and Flight Engineer would then resolve the issue.

During World War II many bomber aircraft incorporated the flight engineer position. However, this Engineer also doubled as a gunner, usually operating the dorsal ball turret as was the case of the B-17.

On all commercial airliners with a Flight Engineer the F.E. is the third in command, after the captain and first officer.

In the U.S.A. the airlines, to reduce crew costs, got the F.A.A. to change the requirements for a F.E. to that of a pilot with a commercial license, doing away with the specialist technical background and expertise required. The Pilot F.E. became known as the Second Officer. The Second Officer could progress up the chain of command to First Officer and then Captain if he/she so desired.

All airlines outside the U.S.A retained the requirement for a "Professional" Flight Engineer with specialist technical background and qualifications, some "Professional" F.E's have training as pilots but a pilots qualification isn't the primary requirement for the position of a "Professional" F.E.

Elimination

The advent of computer technology, reliable software, and a desire by airlines to cut costs by reducing flight deck crew, has eliminated the requirement for Flight Engineers on modern airliners. The same general logic has led to the removal of the Flight Engineer position in many modern military aircraft. Flight Engineers are a rare sight today, however older aircraft still flying today such as early model Boeing 747s, the Boeing 727, the Lockheed L-1011, the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 and the Tupolev Tu-154s still require Flight Engineers.

On new generation two-man deck aircraft, sensors and computers monitor and adjust systems automatically. There is no onboard technical expert and third pair of eyes. If a malfunction, abnormality or emergency occurs it will be displayed on an electronic display panel and the computer will automatically initiate corrective action to rectify the abnormal condition. One pilot does the flying, PF, and the other pilot, PNF, will resolve the issue. The PNF has the additional workload of monitoring the PF, carrying out the requested PF commands, doing the radio work, reading the checklists to ensure that the computer has done its job and that follow up procedures are accomplished as per checklists.

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A flight engineer is a member of an aircrew that operates and monitors various aircraft systems. Flight engineers work in three major areas: fixed-wing, rotary wing (helicopters), and space flight.

Contents

History

The first airplanes only had a single operator: the pilot. The pilot was responsible for flying the airplane, navigating, and ensuring that all systems worked correctly. The pilot had to have a great deal of knowledge of the technical details of the airplane, or disaster could occur from mis-handling or failure to recognize and execute corrective action of a minor malfunction. There was also the danger of CFIT (Controlled Flight Into Terrain) due to loss of spatial awareness because the pilot was focused on trying to correct a malfunction.

As airplanes became more complex and as longer flight durations became possible, a co-pilot was added to the crew to spread the workload and enhance safety. The copilot assisted the pilot or airplane commander in the flying of the airplane. They would typically trade off actual flying duties to avoid problems of fatigue. They would also cross-check each other on critical operations, reducing the chances for unintended disasters. Both the pilot and copilot still needed to have a great deal of knowledge of the details of their airplane, since between them they had to resolve any problems that arose in flight.

As airplanes became even larger requiring more engines and complex systems to operate, the workload on the two pilots became excessive during certain critical parts of the flight regime, notably takeoffs and landings. Piston engines on aircraft required a great deal of attention throughout the flight with their multitude of gauges and indicators. Inattention or a missed indication could result in engine or propeller failure, and quite possibly cause loss of the airplane if prompt corrective action was not taken. In order to dedicate a person to monitoring the engines and other critical flight systems, the position of Flight Engineer was created. The Flight Engineer did not actually fly the airplane; instead, the Flight Engineer had his own specialized control panel allowing him to monitor and control the various aircraft systems. The Flight Engineer is therefore an integrated member of the flight deck crew who works in close coordination with the two pilots during all phases of flight. The Flight Engineer position was usually placed on the main flight deck just aft of the pilot and copilot. The first commercial aircraft to include a flight engineer was the Boeing 307 but only ten were built before the onset of World War II; during the war the Avro Lancaster bomber required a flight engineer. The first operation involving Flight Engineers was in February 1941 on a Shorts Stirling, and was the first four-engined bomber raid of the war by the RAF [1]

Duties

The Flight Engineer (Air Engineer in the Royal Air Force) is primarily concerned with the operation and monitoring of all aircraft systems, and is required to diagnose and where possible rectify or eliminate any faults that may arise. On most multi-engine aircraft, the Flight Engineer (FE) sets and adjusts engine power during take off, climb, cruise, go-arounds, or at any time the pilot flying (PF) requests a specific power setting to be set during the approach phase. The FE sets and monitors the following major systems: fuel, pressurization and air conditioning, hydraulic, electrics, ice and rain protection, oxygen, fire and overheat protection, and powered flying controls. FEs are also responsible for preflight and postflight aircraft inspections, and ensuring that the weight and balance of the aircraft is correctly calculated to ensure the centre of gravity is within limits. On aircraft where the FE's station is located on the same flight deck just aft of the two pilots (all western three-man deck aircraft), they also monitor aircraft flight path, speed, and altitude. A significant portion of their time is cross checking pilot selections.

On some military aircraft (C-5, KC-10) the Flight Engineer sits behind the co-pilot in the cockpit, facing sideways to operate a panel of switches, gauges and indicators, and on the Tupolev Tu-134 the flight engineer sits in the nose of the aircraft. On other western military aircraft, such as on the P-3 Orion and C-130H, FEs sit between, slightly aft of, and slightly higher than the pilots. On civilian aircraft the FE is positioned so that he can monitor the fwd instruments, pilot selections and adjust the thrust levers located on the centre pedestal; the FE's chair can travel forward and aft and it can swivel laterally 90 degrees, which enables him to face forward and set the engine power, then move aft and rotate sideways to monitor and set the systems panel. The Flight Engineer is the aircraft systems expert onboard and responsible for troubleshooting and suggesting solutions to in-flight emergencies and abnormal technical conditions, as well as computing takeoff and landing data.

The basic philosophy of a three man flight deck on western aircraft should an abnormality or emergency arise is as follows: the Captain hands over the actual flying of the aircraft to the Copilot, then the Captain and Flight Engineer together review and carry out the necessary actions required to contain and rectify the problem. This spreads the workload and ensures a system of cross-checking which maximizes safety. The Captain is the manager and decision maker (Pilot Not Flying, PNF), the First Officer/Copilot is the actual flier of the aircraft (Pilot Flying, PF), and the Flight Engineer reads the check-lists and executes actions required under the auspices of the Captain (PNF). There can be occasions when the roles of the pilots during a emergency are reversed, i.e. the Copilot becomes the PNF and the Captain becomes the PF; one such example was on the A300 B-Series aircraft when there was a complete loss of generator-supplied electrical power, whereupon the standby instruments that were powered were on the Captain's side only, requiring the Captain to be PF and the PNF and Flight Engineer to resolve the issue.

During World War II many bomber aircraft incorporated the flight engineer position. However, this Engineer also doubled as a gunner, usually operating the dorsal ball turret as was the case of the B-17.

On all commercial airliners with a Flight Engineer the FE is the third in command, after the captain and first officer.

The airlines in the U.S.A, to reduce crew costs, convinced the F.A.A. to change the requirements for a FE to that of a pilot with a commercial license, doing away with the previously required specialist technical background and expertise. The Pilot FE became known as the Second Officer. The Second Officer could progress up the chain of command to First Officer and then Captain if he/she so desired.

All airlines outside the U.S.A retained the requirement for a "Professional" Flight Engineer with specialist technical background and qualifications. Some "Professional" FEs have training as pilots but a pilot's qualification isn't the primary requirement for the position of a "Professional" FE.

Elimination

The advent of computer technology, reliable software, and a desire by airlines to cut costs by reducing flight deck crew have eliminated the requirement for Flight Engineers on modern airliners. The same general logic has led to the removal of the Flight Engineer position in many modern military aircraft. Flight Engineers are a rare sight today; however, older aircraft still flying today such as early model Boeing 747s, the Boeing 727, the Lockheed L-1011, the McDonnell Douglas DC-10 and the Tupolev Tu-154s still require Flight Engineers.

On new generation two-man deck aircraft, sensors and computers monitor and adjust systems automatically. There is no onboard technical expert and third pair of eyes. If a malfunction, abnormality or emergency occurs it will be displayed on an electronic display panel and the computer will automatically initiate corrective action to rectify the abnormal condition. One pilot (PF) does the flying, and the other pilot (PNF) will resolve the issue. The PNF has the additional workload of monitoring the PF, carrying out the requested PF commands, doing the radio work, and reading the checklists to ensure that the computer has done its job and that follow up procedures are accomplished as per checklists.

References

  1. ^ "The History of the Air Engineer", Flight Lieutenant D C Stringman (1983), publisher unknown


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