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Flight Engineers On Piston Planes

Mon Jul 19, 2004 3:47 am

I'm curious to hear from Flight Engineer's who flew on the four piston engine prop planes, like the Constellation. What was the workload like? Did you have to constantly nurse and cajoule the radials, and did you ever have to shut down more than one engine?
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RE: Flight Engineers On Piston Planes

Mon Jul 19, 2004 11:21 pm

Not a flight engineer, but was a pilot on these old aircraft, and yes the engines did need a bit of attention.
But, it varied by type.
The Pratt&Whitney R2800 fitted to the DC-6 (among others) was rather straight forward.
Takeoff power set, and proceed with the takeoff. Rolling takeoff procedure used nearly always.
Once the gear is retracted, METO (maximum except take off) is selected.
At 400agl, flaps retracted.
Climb power then set.
During the climb, the flight engineer kept a close eye on the CHT's and the oil temps.
Climbs were always done with the mixtures in autorich.
If the initial cruise altitude was above 12,000msl, the superchargers (blowers) were shifted to HIGH, and the climb continued.
This was done by the flight engineer, and required a slight power reduction during blower shift...two engines at a time, usually.
Once cruise altitude was reached, the aircraft was allowed to accelerate to just slightly above expected cruise airspeed, the cruise power was set.
In the case of the DC-6, this was 1100BHP, and used the torque meter (BMEP gauge) as a reference.
Cruise was done with the mixtures in autolean.
These engines were ALWAYS cruised at a constant BHP, so the aircraft would accelerate slightly, as the fuel was burned, and the weight decreased.
Note: this is quite unlike a jet transport, which has the power reduced as the weight decreases, to maintain a constant IAS/mach number.

The F/E kept an eye on the CHT, oil temps/pressures, etc and in addition, used the engine analyzer from time to time to check for a shorted secondary (Ignition) in each cylinder. These engines used low tension ignition, ie: the magnetos generated the spark pulse which was transfered to an igtnition coil atop each cylinder, for the high tension spark to the plug(s).
This was used so that these engines could be cruised at high altitudes constantly, without the problems associated with mis-fire.

Descent was accomplished in autolean, and when passing 12,000msl, the blowers were again switched to LOW.
On approach, the mixtures were moved to autorich, to provide a rich enough mixture in the event of a go-around.
In addition, the props were not moved to high RPM, unless a go-around was started.
The reason for this was to avoid master rod bearing excessive wear, and was done according to the engine manufacturers specific instructions.

If you would like to read about these old engines, look at, a very interesting site.

Hope this has answered your question.
If you have more, just ask.

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RE: Flight Engineers On Piston Planes

Tue Jul 20, 2004 4:25 am

Hi 411A, thanks for an interesting answer. It seems like there were a lot of parameters to play with and monitor, which are probably taken care of today by FADEC.
I'll certainly visit the site you mentioned. I have some books on engines, and in the fifties/sisxties, radial engines were getting to be pretty complex, especially with compound turbo-superchargers. By contrast, a jet engine in its simplest form has only one major moving part. But the rumble from a radial sounds nicer (to me, anyway), like when I got to see a Constellation do a low, slow pass.

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RE: Flight Engineers On Piston Planes

Wed Jul 21, 2004 11:58 am

A few years ago I had an FAA written test site. A guy called me one day with a problem. He wanted to take an exam and needed someone to sign him off to take it. He wanted Flight Engineer - Reciprocating Powered. He was going to be a volunteer flight engineer on a C-97 being restored for the airshow circuit and had lots of experience on the panel. Problem was, no one felt qualified to pass judgement on his experience. None of us would have known much of anything about it.

I imagine that it is a high workload job. Certainly, flying big old radials is a lot more work than these electronic jets with no moving parts. When you see a B-17 or something like it flying at an airshow, tip your hat to the wizards who keep it all running. It is a real achievement in a sixty year old airplane.
Happiness is not seeing another trite Ste. Maarten photo all week long.
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RE: Flight Engineers On Piston Planes

Wed Jul 21, 2004 3:09 pm

Actually, Econoboy, the large radial turbo compound engine that CurtisWright produced, and was used on the DC7 and some models of the Lockheed Constellation, did not have turbo-superchargers.

The had...
Two speed superchargers, and in addition, three Power Recovery Turbines.
These were exhaust driven (similar to a turbocharger) but instead delivered their output directly to the crankshaft, thru a fluid coupling.
This accounted for an additional 400 (approximately) BHP, without any a
additional fuel consumption. This resulted in an additional 60 knots TAS.

In addition, many of these large radials used 'MP recovery'.
When the initial cruise MP was set, and the mixtures moved to autolean, the throttles were advanced to the BMEP limit, which allowed these engines to operate well lean of peak exhaust gas temperature, for additional fuel savings.

This was all done by the flight engineer...the KEY man where engine management was concerned.

The pilots just pointed it in the right direction...and performed takeoffs and landings, of course.
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RE: Flight Engineers On Piston Planes

Thu Jul 22, 2004 4:19 am

Hi 411A, apologies for the inaccuracies in my last message. Radial manufacturers managed to wring quite a lot more horse power out of their engines by the introduction of such things as power recovery turbines. many moving parts, all controlled (presumably) by electro-mechanical logic, which is why, as I understand it, it was not unusual to have to shut down one engine on a long flight (like trans-atlantic). As you say, the Flight Engineer had a lot of responsibility.
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RE: Flight Engineers On Piston Planes

Thu Jul 22, 2004 4:59 am

Well, yes, quite a few were indeed shut down for a variety of reasons.
PRT's would overheat, oil pressure would reduce unexpectedly, props would become uncontrollable, etc.
The CurtisWright turbocompound engine especially.
This particular engine produced one HP per cubic inch of displacement, about all that could be expected of any design. The fuel consumption for this particular engine was 0.36 pounds fuel/HP/hr, when operating in high blower at altitude.
Normal for others was 0.50 pounds fuel/HP/hr.

The engines on the Boeing Stratocruiser were unique as well (Pratt&Whitney R4360's) as they used a supercharger (blower) as well as an externally mounted General Electric turbocharger, for improved high altitude performance.
These engines were developed especially for the B36 long range bomber, and could operate successfully at 40,000 feet. Of course, on the Stratocruiser, the authorized operating ceiling was 25,000, due to passenger oxygen requirements.
If you are ever in the SanFrancisco area, take a side trip to the San Carlos airport, to the Hiller helicopter museum. They have a cut-away rotating model of this engine...very interesting to see.
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RE: Flight Engineers On Piston Planes

Thu Jul 22, 2004 6:19 am

Hi again 411A. If I get to San Francisco again (and I hope I do as it's a great city), I'll follow your advice.
Meantime, since I live in Bristol, the local museum has quite a few Bristol radial engines, including a cut away of one of their sleeve valve engines, which were mechanically simple, and with an uncluttered external appearance; but the sleeves were a manufacturing nightmare.
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RE: Flight Engineers On Piston Planes

Thu Jul 22, 2004 7:33 am

Did anyone see the documentary about those crazy Australian guys and their Connie? They bought what could charitably be called a wreck in Arizona and worked on it on and off for years.

Those engines seemed tricky tricky. When they finally flew back to Australia, they blew a cylinder before landing on Guam or somewhere like that. Three days to repair and it looked like the Terminator had punched his fist through it (the real Terminator, not the Governator...)

They got their reward though. As they arrived in Sydney, they did several triumphant laps over the city filmed by news choppers. Lots of tears. Even I shed a few just watching the thing.

I can't remember the name of the movie, but if you get the chance watch it. It runs every now and then on Discovery Wings.
"There are no stupid questions, but there are a lot of inquisitive idiots." - John Ringo

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