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Flight Engineers  
User currently offlineJonty From United Kingdom, joined Jul 2004, 226 posts, RR: 0
Posted (11 years 1 month 4 weeks 1 day 8 hours ago) and read 2919 times:

I did search for this in the forums first, and although it answered some of my questions, it also confused me a bit!

What exactly did flight engineers do, were they there just to monitor the systems, or could they swap with pilots like the relief pilots do nowerdays?
Were they pilots, as in you started off as an F/E then moved up to F/O before captaincy?
Or were they the kind of engineers that are only on the ground nowerdays?
Finally its a stupid question, but was it better haveing an F/E when you were flying, not only as being another person to help fly, but also as another person to talk to instead of there just being they two of you? As I think that if I was a pilot then I would like more than 2 people for hours at a time!
And how come if from the 70's or 60's (please tell me which one) 737 classics could fly without engineers, were they still in later 707s, 727s and 747 classics, did they just not want to change the design?
Also people in other posts I have read mention professional flight engineers, so what is that, and how is it different from a lay one (is that the right term)?

Thanks for any answers you can give! Or any more questions that provide more information!

7 replies: All unread, jump to last
User currently offline411A From United States of America, joined Nov 2001, 1826 posts, RR: 8
Reply 1, posted (11 years 1 month 4 weeks 1 day 5 hours ago) and read 2881 times:

PROFESSIONAL Flight Engineer...never go flying without one.

They do the following...
Exterior inspection, even in the rain/snow.
Interior inspection.


Cabin heating/cooling
Check the performance/loadsheet info
V speeds
Emergencies...if you have one (hope not)

...and a whole host of other items to numerous to mention.

And, have been known to make the best coffee known to man.

Don't leave home without one. Smile

User currently offline57AZ From United States of America, joined Nov 2004, 2586 posts, RR: 2
Reply 2, posted (11 years 1 month 4 weeks 1 day 1 hour ago) and read 2848 times:

411A hit the job description dead on. Back in the day, the flight engineer was a category entirely separate from the Captain and First Officer. Simply put, you either became a pilot or flight engineer but not both. The promotional lines were very separate. On the propeller driven transports, the FE was entirely responsible for powerplant management. The only time the pilots might touch the throttles was during takeoff and landing-otherwise the engines were the domain of the FE. In some aircraft such as the Constellation series, the FE has a separate workstation complete with duplicate engine throttles. On aircraft such as the Douglas DC-series, the FE occupied a jumpseat in between the pilot's seats and had to reach forward to operate the engine controls. Depending on operational needs, they might also serve as radio operator and/or navigator.

The reasons that the early jet transports had flight engineers was twofold. One, the new aircraft were highly complex machines and technology had not advanced sufficiently to automate the performance duties of the flight engineer. Secondly, the unions were strong in keeping the profession alive. As for the continued requirement of flight engineers on first generation jets, it's a matter of law and economics. Those aircraft, when initially certified, were certified requiring two type rated pilots and a type rated FE. To convert any of them to two man operation would be uneconomical. First you would have to redesign the systems operations and hardware for two man operation. Then there's the issue of getting the mod certified under FAA and JAA regs and coming up with a compliant transition course for pilots and mechanics. Then there's the cost of retrofitting the new mod into the existing airframes. All in all, it's cheaper to operate the remaining hulls as is with a third man.

"When a man runs on railroads over half of his lifetime he is fit for nothing else-and at times he don't know that."
User currently offlineCosmicCruiser From United States of America, joined Feb 2005, 2268 posts, RR: 6
Reply 3, posted (11 years 1 month 4 weeks 21 hours ago) and read 2820 times:

411A said it all except I'll add that from his (the FE) "detached" point of view he was an invaluable extra set of eyes!

User currently offlineJetlagged From United Kingdom, joined Jan 2005, 2620 posts, RR: 25
Reply 4, posted (11 years 1 month 4 weeks 18 hours ago) and read 2785 times:

Before the days of EICAS and ECAM, a three or four engined aircraft required an engineer to operate the complex fuel, hydraulics, electrics, pneumatics and pressurisation systems. Engine management was a split responsibility between the engineer and the pilots. On short haul twins like the 737 and DC-9 systems were designed to be controlled by the F/O using the overhead panel and some basic automation. Unions resisted this change and some airlines operated the 737 with a second officer at first, before it became clear this was not operationally necessary, nor any safer due to the relatively short sectors flown.

On longer routes the engineer provides a useful third pair of eyes, calls many checklists, etc. On some airlines the F/E station would be operated by a junior pilot awaiting promotion to the right hand seat. In Europe it was usual to have a qualified engineer in the F/E seat. The presence of an engineer, who would have in depth systems knowledge, helps with fault finding. Also a flight engineer is qualified to sign off an aircraft for flight, avoiding the need to fly a ground engineer to a remote location to authorise a local repair.

Computers have replaced the monitoring and control functions of the engineers job, so the traditional side facing engineers panel is becoming a rarer sight. The A310 and the 767 were the first large commercial aircraft to eliminate the F/E panel completely. Both were initially designed with a flight engineer's station, but very few customers wanted one installed.

The glass isn't half empty, or half full, it's twice as big as it needs to be.
User currently offlineB747FE From Hong Kong, joined Jun 2004, 230 posts, RR: 4
Reply 5, posted (11 years 1 month 4 weeks 18 hours ago) and read 2778 times:

Quoting Jonty (Thread starter):
Were they pilots, as in you started off as an F/E then moved up to F/O before captaincy?
Or were they the kind of engineers that are only on the ground nowerdays?

At my company, the applicant to FE position must have at least 5 years experience as AMT, ground engineer or mechanic and type rating in the aircraft.

As for the job itself, 411A description is accurate.


"Flying is more than a sport and more than a job; flying is pure passion and desire, which fill a lifetime"
User currently offlineVc10 From United Kingdom, joined Nov 2001, 1468 posts, RR: 15
Reply 6, posted (11 years 1 month 4 weeks 18 hours ago) and read 2780 times:

A flight engineer came into existence sometime just prior to or during the second world war when 4 engined, long range, aircraft with more complex systems were introduced and it was considered they need their own set of eyes to monitor them. The large piston engined aircraft such as the Constellation used a full time flight engineer to monitor and adjust systems and engines so as to get the best from them so as to allow the aircraft to operate over the long distances [well at least for then ]

Now this extra person could have been a pilot but then all their flying training would have gone to waste so suitably trained ground engineers were used so bringing a deeper technical knowledge to the flight deck aswell as being able to carry out rectification when the aircraft was away from base

With the advent of 4 engined jet aircraft although the engine management in flight became easier, the system complexity increased so it was thought necessary to retain this extra person. Now in most of the world this extra person was recruited from ground engineer personnel, but in the USA the pilots union persuaded their government to change the basic requirement for a Flight Engineers ticket so it became very easy for pilots to now become F/Es. Their reasoning being that it was safer to have 3 pilots on the aircraft in case of illness???? In fact when I was applying to get an American F/E ticket by sitting the basic exams the authorities were not sure if I was sufficently qualified as I did not have a pilots license. The fact that I had been a F/E in the UK for 32 years did not seem to impress them.

In most parts of the rest of the world airlines stuck with recruiting their F/E from the engineering world, and in the UK at least these people were always expected to have a deeper technical knowledge of their aircraft than their pilot companions. They also adopted navigation and performance monitoring duties along with non ATC R/T communications. To the end they were also expected to hold a company maintenance approval or CAA maintenance licence on their type of aircraft. When it was certain that the F/E job was on the way out many airlines trained their younger F/E to be pilots , but up to that point F/E were F/E until they retired.

Oh nearly forgot they also had to be quite good at making tea/coffee, telling jokes,and buying more than their fair share of the beer [ mind you some people said they also drunk more than their fair share of the beer ]

Anyway enough for now so Be Happy Little vc10

User currently offlineVC10 From United Kingdom, joined Nov 2001, 1468 posts, RR: 15
Reply 7, posted (11 years 1 month 4 weeks 17 hours ago) and read 2780 times:

Jetlagged Agree with all you say except I am slower at typing than you,

How can you tell a pilot from an engineer[mechanic if you insist]

1] An engineer washes his hands before he goes to the toilet whereas a pilot washes his afterwards

2] If two men are asleep on the beach how can you tell which is the F/E and which is the pilot

Open a bottle of beer and the one that wakes up is the F/E

or Noisily crumple up a £20 note and the one who wakes up will be the pilot

Oh dear now you know why they got rid of F/E

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