Flight Engineer

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Flight Engineer


Often times someone is eager about a trip, and when they finally get on the airplane, they just have to sit there for what feels like hours, waiting until take off. For much of that time, their plane may be being looked over by a flight engineer, who examines the aircraft before it can go anywhere. Flight engineers ensure that the technical aspects of the plane are in perfect working order before the plane can take off.

These technical experts are thoroughly familiar with the operation and function of various parts of an airplane. They inspect aircraft prior to takeoff for defects - they look for things like fuel or oil leaks and malfunctions in electrical, hydraulic, or pressurization systems. They ensure that the cargo and passengers are well balanced. On larger aircrafts, these engineers (who are also trained pilots) come along for the ride. In-flight, they monitors control panels and regulate engine speed according to instructions of the head pilot. They take care of repairs, replace fuses, adjust instruments, and free jammed flight controls. They are there to look after any technical emergencies that may arise in-flight.

They also keep records about fuel consumption, repairs needed, and malfunctions that ground personnel might be able to look after.

Today, however, these engineers are needed less and less. Their mechanical knowledge isn't as required when it comes to computerized aircrafts. This third pilot is often left off of planes that can fly and function with only two pilots. The future for this highly trained and skilled engineer/pilots is fading, but only just.
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  Average Earnings  
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  Interests and Skills  
Flight engineers must be confident in their abilities, and work well with others. They must be level-headed, and be able to make decisions under pressure. They should enjoy flying, have good spatial perception, excellent motor skills, and good eyesight, with or without glasses. They need to have good hearing, be in good health, and, most importantly, they should have excellent mechanical abilities, which they can use in difficult and stressful situations.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Regular reviews of equipment, procedures, and safety programs
  • Check emergency systems, radios, fuel load, etc., before take off
  • Keep log of flight data
  • Monitor flight systems
  • Perform repairs, adjustments, and changes to mechanics while in-flight
  • Respond to any emergencies that arise
  • Flight engineers have many important tasks to complete every day. They are in charge of ensuring the safe travel of passengers and cargo. Each task is crucial to a successful flight. They check all mechanical aspects of the aircraft prior to the flight, and make repairs while in-flight, as well as keep accurate reports on flight progress. They don't work outdoors, and of course get to travel-but rarely do they get to do any sightseeing!

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Flight engineers spend their working hours in the air. They work in small, cramped cockpits, usually on huge cargo planes or planes full of travelers. They can fly around the world or across a state or two. They are employed by private airline companies, and fly alongside a pilot and co-pilot. They may also fly private or company jets. They often have to relocate at the beginning of their careers.
  • They spend time away from their families, and can be hard at work in evenings, on weekends, and holidays. While they are rare, they must be prepared for dangerous situations like storms, emergency landings, and crashes.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Flight engineers can work as pilots for small, charter companies, or fly with major airlines. They can fly personal jets or company planes, or become test pilots, flight instructors, or helicopter pilots. Some may choose to join the military and use their skills to deliver food, supplies, or other forms of relief aid, as well as weapons. They can stop flying, and become air traffic controllers, mechanics, or write about their experiences.

  Educational Paths  
Working with an aircraft can be learned either in private, civilian flying schools or in the military. Most people choose the private flight school route.

Flight engineers must be trained as pilots. The minimum licensing requirement for airline pilots is a commercial pilot's license with night endorsement, instrument flight rating, and a radio telephone (restricted) license. One can get these after many, many hours in the air, training with a recognized instructor. There are training programs offered by flying clubs and schools throughout the US. The cost varies from one organization to another, so it is important to check around.

Once that level has been achieved, the flight engineer must get some training in aircraft engineering, mechanics, or other related areas.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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