Flight engineers can fly

"I thought you were done with" or
"A glass of red wine at nine in the morning".

by Jürgen Heermann

Altitude 10700 meters, deep night over the Atlantic. It has been over four hours since the start in Washington. With our Jumbo, a Boeing 747, we fly over 30 degrees west longitude at the 42nd degree of latitude. One of the two pilots reports their position to air traffic control. For the twelfth time I check the fuel supply.

The purser, head of the cabin, comes into the cockpit with two passengers. After a moment of amazement at so many watches and buttons, her gaze turns to me:

"And what is your job?"

"I'm the flight engineer on board."

"What is a flight engineer needed for?"

"The flight engineer keeps the aircraft" happy "while the pilots take it from A to B. This requires more than switching on the position lights at the beginning of the night of height, direction and speed, setting the landing flaps and driving the landing gear, this activity is closely integrated into that of the pilot. "

"Yes, but I thought you got rid of them?"

"Flight engineers will not be abolished, but newer aircraft will no longer need them. Since aircraft can live to be 25 years old without any problems, there will be flight engineers for a long time to come."

"And how is it in an airplane with a two-man cockpit?"

"There the systems are largely automated and the remaining work has to be done by the pilots."

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When it got light outside, the guests had long since left. After another two hours of sunshine, we land at our home airport in Frankfurt am Main. We take 17 uniformed men in a bus to the crew cellar. Not long after we shook hands a total of 136 times, I turn right at the Frankfurter Kreuz and a little later sit in front of a glass of red wine. End of working day! It's nine in the morning. I see a jumbo climbing. Coming from the "Eins-Acht" runway, it flies straight towards the radio beacon near Bad König. I know that the flight engineer sitting in it checked over 1500 displays and switch positions by the time it took off. After taking off, he ensured that the landing gears were retracted and their doors closed. He reduced the engines from take-off to the gentler climb rate and switched on the air conditioning and pressure control system accordingly. At the moment he is listening to the instructions from air traffic control and checking the retraction of the starting flaps. He is about to switch over the network of pipelines that connect up to nine tanks with four engines. This is the only way to keep the aircraft's center of gravity in the fuel-saving area. I will lie in bed and sleep blissfully when he and his captain and copilot reach cruising altitude. There this "abolished" flight engineer will find the time to be able to enjoy a cup of coffee. One of 130 in the Lufthansa Group.

Postscript: Since December 31, 2004, with the sale of the last Jumbos, the Boeing 747-200 from Deutsche Lufthansa, there has been no three-man cockpit in Germany. Hundreds of three-man cockpit planes with thousands of flight engineers still fly in the world. The Jumbo, the B747, was built with a three-man cockpit until 1991. Such aircraft can easily live to be 25 years old. Until they are sold!

Do you want to know more? Who is who in the cockpit? How do you become a pilot? See the three consecutive chapters in my book, beginning with "First five, then four, now three or two".