Building the crew - flight engineers

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Michael Touchette
  • 120th Airlift Wing Public Affairs Office
(This is the second of a five-part series)

When a vehicle develops mechanical problems while driving cross country AAA recommends exiting onto the far right shoulder, as far off the road as possible, turning on the emergency flashers, raising the vehicle's hood and remaining in the vehicle until a road service provider arrives.

That is not something that can be done when the cross-country trip is in a C-130 aircraft, flying more than 10,000 feet above the ground at speeds exceeding 300 miles per hour.

Instead of calling AAA, C-130 pilots turn to their flight engineers.

"We monitor and operate the systems and if stuff goes south we're usually the ones who everyone turns to and ask 'what's going on and what do we do?'" said Staff Sgt. Patrick Maphies, a flight engineer with the 120th Airlift Wing.

When a problem is encountered flight engineers take action.

"Flight engineers identify the problem, then take corrective action to rectify the situation with coordination between the rest of the crew," said Staff Sgt. Ryan Byrnes, a flight engineer with the 120th AW. "We are the focal point of that process."

"Every scenario is different, we are the ones who coordinate the procedure," said Tech. Sgt. Ethan Clum, a flight engineer with the 120th AW. "Ultimately it is the aircraft commander who makes the decisions."

Clum said because of high pressure situations requiring a vast knowledge of the aircraft the position requires people who want to do the job and remain calm in emergencies.

"Sometimes people leave the field because it is so stressful," Clum said.  "You have to go into it knowing you want to do it."

The selection process begins with an application and interview with pilots, Maphies said.

I was a crew chief on the F-15 and applied for a position as a flight engineer, which required a maintenance background," Maphies said.

"Most of us were prior maintenance, whether that was being crew chief or avionics," Byrnes said.

Training to become a loadmaster begins with the 25 school-day Basic Flight Engineer Course at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. Following that, Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape and water survival courses are completed before going to Little Rock AFB, Arkansas, for C-130 flight engineer training, Maphies said. That training is six months and consists of classroom instruction until the last month, when students are attached to a flying squadron. There they will have 10 flights, including a minimum of three night flights and a check flight.

According to their website, the 314th Airlift Wing is the nation's tactical airlift "Center of
Excellence" and trains C-130 aircrew members from the Department of Defense, Coast Guard and 47 partner nations. The wing flies 6,515 hours annually and uses two local drop zones, two local assault landing zones, 10 regional airfields and 80 flight simulators/training devices to train more than 1,500 students annually, including more than 150 international students in DoD's largest international flying training program.

Byrnes said that after school home station training takes place, including 120 seasoning days, and maintaining proficiency is an ongoing process for a flight engineer.

"A lot of it is staying in the books and flying," Maphies said. "You have to fly at least once every 45 days, but to be good at this job or any flying job you definitely need to stay in it more than that."

Additionally, pilots, navigators and flight engineers are all required to go through a simulator annually, Maphies said.

"The simulator is basically an emergency procedure evaluation for the engineer," Byrnes said. "It's a good chance to get in the seat and actually get eyes on the emergencies we could see in the aircraft, so it's a good test of our skills."