Flight engineer



Flight engineer
Kenneth Pope


Flight Engineer magazine article describes role of flight engineer. Photograph of Kenneth Pope, in uniform with sergeants stripes and flight engineers brevet, crouching with dog outside a building.



IBCC Digital Archive


Frances Grundy


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One shett and one b/w photograph on an album page





The story is told many times over, in the citations announcing awards for gallantry in the air, of the work being done by flight engineers in the bombers of the Royal Air Force.
The flight engineer is a comparatively new member of the air crew. His evolution can be traced with the increase in size and complexity of aircraft, and his importance will increase to a greater extent than in the case of any other member of the air crew as aircraft develop in size. Even now there are signs in very large aircraft, such as the Martin Mars, that the flight engineer is becoming the equivalent to the engineer in the sea-going liner. He is now provided with his own control room where, in communication with the pilot on the bridge, he ensures that the aero-engines are kept running in a manner calculated to give the most efficient operation for the conditions of of flight being worked to by the pilot. From experience he can at once detect without concentration any deviation from the normal instrument readings, and his immediate corrective action may avoid worse trouble developing which, if it had been left to the pilot, with many other matters on his mind, might have gone unnoticed until something began to break up. He is responsible for many other things besides the operation of the engines, and, broadly speaking, his various duties can be defined as follows:
1. As explained above, he is responsible for operating the engines to give the most efficient performance within the flight conditions ordered by the pilot or captain of the aircraft. To do this he must have a very complete knowledge of engine operation, so that he can adjust his boost and engine speed to the most efficient boost and engine speed for every condition of flight, it is the most efficient relationship between boost and r.p.m. for any condition of flight that he must have at his finger tips, only long experience will teach him this “engine sense.”
2. He should be capable of taking over the flying controls from the pilot in an emergency and be able to hold the aircraft to a given course. This is especially important in the case of a military aircraft, where the other members of the crew will have their hands full with their own duties, and only the flight engineer can keep an eye on his own job when deputising for the pilot, since the engine controls and performance instruments are duplicated in the pilot's cockpit.
Although this function of the flight engineer is especially desirable in military aircraft, the value of being able to fly the aircraft and thus understand perfectly the operation of the flying controls and appreciate the pilot's outlook on the whole job cannot be over-estimated. It is in this way alone that a perfect understanding between the pilot and his engineer can be achieved.
3. As technical adviser to the pilot the flight engineer performs what is probably his most useful function. Although he works under direct orders from the pilot, the modern aircraft is becoming such a highly developed piece of mechanism that the pilot has to rely on an expert technician for advice upon the most suitable conditions of flight to be adopted under any particular circumstances. Before a flight the pilot and flight engineer will probably have a conference and discuss the flight plan and the bearing which it will have on how the engines are operated, etc. In this way, perfect understanding is achieved, and the pilot can give all his attention to flying the aircraft, with the knowledge that his requirements as far as aircraft performance are concerned are being met efficiently by the flight engineer. Obviously the flight engineer must, on the one hand, have a perfect understanding of the functioning of the complete aircraft and, on the other hand, he must be certain that the pilot is not at cross-purposes with him on any particular point, Complete mutual understanding and trust, essential as it is, can be achieved only if both the captain and the flight engineer know their own scope of functions intimately and work together as a team.
4. Again, as technical adviser to the pilot, the flight engineer is responsible for maintaining liaison between the ground technical staff and the pilot, both after and before flight. The flight engineer's report, which will probably be surveyed and perhaps added to, at the completion of a flight, by the pilot would be passed over to the individual in charge of the ground maintenance party, and would form the basis of the work programme in addition to the routine inspection which has to be done between flights. This report would give details of any observations made by the flight engineer, e.g. brakes require adjusting, port inner throttle control stiff, starboard undercarriage retracting gear sluggish in operation.
It is necessary for the flight engineer to take an interest in the ground maintenance work done on his aircraft, and on taking over technical responsibility for the aircraft before flight he would receive the ground staff's report on the work which they have done and any particular points of interest to himself or the pilot. Any such points would be brought to the notice of the pilot during the pre-flight conference.
5. Finally, the flight engineer has to be capable of effecting an emergency repair during flight. This function calls for a very complete knowledge of the structure of the aircraft and initiative of a very high order.
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During take off you will operate certain engine controls and make sure that the engine limitations are not exceeded.
During the flight you will be responsible for the engines. You will yourself operate many controls, such as air-intake shutters, cooling gills and fuel-cocks. You must advise the pilot on the use of the engines in order to fly the greatest distance on the amount of fuel carried. Pay most careful attention to the fuel consumption, checking the gauges frequently and maintaining a record of the miles flown per gallon, so that you may be able to tell the captain at any time how far he can go on the remaining fuel.
In addition it is part of your job to do any small repairs which become necessary. During training you will be given practical tips on emergency repairs, but often success will depend on your own inventive ability; during this war aircraft have been saved because elevators were operated by rope, and because hydraulic systems have even been made to work on coffee by resourceful airmen.
Extract from Air Ministry Pamphlet No. 166.
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Aero Spee, “Flight engineer,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed July 22, 2019, https://ibccdigitalarchive.lincoln.ac.uk/omeka/collections/document/8978.

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