Flight engineer

The flight engineer on an Avro Lancaster checks settings on the control panel from his seat in the cockpit

A flight engineer (FE), also sometimes called an air engineer, is the member of an aircraft's flight crew who monitors and operates its complex aircraft systems. In the early era of aviation, the position was sometimes referred to as the "air mechanic". Flight engineers can still be found on some larger fixed-wing airplanes, and helicopters. A similar crew position exists on some spacecraft. In most modern aircraft, their complex systems are both monitored and adjusted by electronic microprocessors and computers, resulting in the elimination of the flight engineer's position.

In earlier days, most larger aircraft were designed and built with a flight engineer's position. For U.S. civilian aircraft that require a flight engineer as part of the crew, the FE must possess an FAA Flight Engineer Certificate with reciprocating, turboprop, or turbojet ratings appropriate to the aircraft. Whereas the four-engine Douglas DC-4 did not require an FE, the FAA type certificates of subsequent four-engine reciprocating engine airplanes (DC-6, DC-7, Constellation, Boeing 307 and 377) and early three- and four-engine jets (Boeing 707, 727, early 747, DC-8, DC-10, L-1011) required flight engineers. Later three- and four-engine jets (MD-11, B-747-400 and later) were designed with sufficient automation to eliminate the position.


Historically, as aeroplanes became ever larger requiring more engines and complex systems to operate, the workload on two pilots became excessive during certain critical parts of the flight regimes, particularly takeoffs and landings. Piston engines on an airplane required a great deal of attention throughout the flight with their multitude of gauges and indicators. Inattention or a missed indication could result in engine or propeller failure, and quite possibly cause the loss of the aircraft if prompt corrective action was not taken.

In order to dedicate a person to monitoring the aircraft's engines and its other critical flight systems, the position of "flight engineer" (FE) was created. The FE did not actually fly the airplane; instead, the FE's position had a specialized control panel allowing for the monitoring and control of various aircraft systems. The FE is therefore an integrated member of the flight deck crew who works in close coordination with the two pilots during all phases of flight.

Traditionally, the FE station has been usually placed on the main flight deck just aft of the pilot and copilot, and close to the navigator. Earlier referred to as a "flight mechanic" on the four-engine commercial seaplanes like the Sikorsky S-42, Martin M-130 and the Boeing 314 Clipper, the FE's role was referred to as an "engineer" (much like a ship's engineer) on the first very large flying boat, the Dornier Do X. On the Do X the FE operated a large and complex engineering station similar to later large transport aircraft to monitor the twelve engines.

The first US military aircraft to include a FE was the Consolidated PBY which was introduced into naval service in 1936. The FE panel was located in the pylon between the fuselage and the wing. The FE did not have ignition, throttle and propeller controls, thus a person in the cockpit was also required to start the engines.[1]

The first commercial land airplane to include a flight engineering station was the Boeing 307 Stratoliner, but only ten were built before the onset of World War II. During the war the Avro Lancaster and Handley Page Halifax bombers employed FEs, as these large aircraft employed only a single pilot. The first Allied military operation during the Second World War involving FEs occurred in February 1941 with a Short Stirling; it was the first four-engined bomber-raid of the war by the RAF.[2]

Other Languages
العربية: مهندس طيران
български: Бординженер
Deutsch: Flugingenieur
Esperanto: Fluginĝeniero
한국어: 항공기관사
italiano: Tecnico di volo
日本語: 航空機関士
português: Engenheiro de voo
русский: Бортинженер
українська: Бортінженер