Have you ever been on an airplane and wondered how many people are needed to operate this aircraft? Perhaps a pilot, a co-pilot, flight attendants and maybe a relief pilot for longer flights?
Well, there’s also an unsung hero in this whole story and he’s the flight engineer. In this article we’ll explore his role and duties.
Career Definition for a Flight Engineer
Flight engineers, sometimes called second officers, play almost as important of a role in flying large aircraft as do pilots and co-pilots. Although they rarely take the controls to fly planes, flight engineers have many other responsibilities both on the ground and onboard aircraft.
Before a flight, the flight engineer inspects the outside of the plane to make sure there are no fluid leaks and that tires are inflated properly. If any problems are found, the engineer calls in mechanics to repair the plane.
Inside the aircraft, the flight engineer helps the pilot and copilot check the operation of more than a hundred instruments, including fuel gauges, oil pressure indicators, and switches to control wing flaps and landing gear. The flight engineer must also review the flight course and weather patterns to determine how much fuel should be loaded on the plane. If a plane is going to fly with a tailwind, it will need much less fuel than if it is going to be flying into a strong head wind.
Once the plane is airborne, the engineer advises the pilot, or captain, of any problems. The engineer monitors the instruments and may make minor repairs, such as replacing fuses. The flight engineer also records fuel consumption during the flight and makes note of the performance of the engines.
After the plane has landed, the flight engineer inspects the plane again to make sure all equipment is functioning properly. If problems arose during the flight, the engineer reports them to the mechanics. His last task is to turn in the flight log of the trip.
Commercial airlines require flight engineers to have at least a bachelor’s degree. While they can technically study any subject as undergraduates, many aspiring flight engineers and pilots major in aviation or aeronautical studies.
Flight engineers must obtain a commercial pilot’s license, have at least 1,500 hours of flying experience and pass a series of physical and psychological tests. Flight engineers have to continue training throughout their career to maintain their license.
Flight engineers must also have a strong background in flying aircraft. Additionally, they need to be adept at reading instruments, dials and other tools used in planes. Leadership and the ability to make decisions quickly are desirable traits, and flight engineers must be in top physical form.