by Bo Joyner
HQ Air Force Reserve Command Public Affairs
July 15, 2018
Officials at Air Force Reserve Command headquarters, Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, are hoping an innovative new program will help the command meet its need for flight engineers.
A flight engineer is the enlisted member of an aircraft’s flight crew who monitors and operates its myriad complex systems. Flight engineers sit at a station near the pilots and work in close coordination with them during all phases of flight. In addition to monitoring all systems, they are required to diagnose, and where possible, rectify or eliminate any faults that may occur. They also compute and apply aircraft weight, balance and performance data, among other duties.
For years, AFRC filled most of its flight engineer positions with Airmen who were leaving active duty. Recently, that pipeline of prior-service flight engineers has started to dry up.
“Weapons modernization has eliminated the flight engineer position on a number of Air Force aircraft,” said Chief Master Sgt. David Jones, AFRC headquarters career enlisted aviator functional manager. “For example, the active duty is flying only the newer C-130 J-model aircraft now while the Reserve’s inventory consists of mostly legacy C-130s. The legacy C-130s have flight engineers, while the J-model doesn’t. As a result, we no longer have that pipeline of C-130 flight engineers making the switch from active duty to the Reserve.”
In addition to the legacy C-130s, flight engineers are still required on C-5s, KC-10s and E-3s, three air frames operated in several locations by the AFRC.
Flight engineers must have a knowledge of electrical, communication, navigation, mechanical, hydraulic, fuels and pneumatic aircraft systems. Currently, Air Force regulations require that flight engineers have prior qualification at the 5- or 7-level in a variety of maintenance career fields.
“In the past, the typical career path for flight engineers was to work in maintenance for a few years and then retrain as a flight engineer,” Jones said. “It would take several years for AFRC to grow an experienced flight engineer.”
To help speed up this process and hopefully encourage more people to consider a career as a flight engineer, Jones and his colleagues in the Directorate of Operations at AFRC headquarters have come up with a program called “High School to Flight School.”
“The basic idea behind High School to Flight School is to equip a non-prior service or prior service candidate who does not have the entry-level experience required by the AFECD (Air Force Enlisted Classification Directory) with a maintenance foundation that will prepare them to enter into the flight engineer career field.
“What we are hoping to do is take a brand new person off the street or a prior service person who doesn’t have any maintenance experience and provide them the technical training required to be a successful flight engineer.
“Prior to a candidate’s attendance at the flight schools required to become a flight engineer, we are going to send candidates to a qualifying maintenance course to give them the maintenance experience required to complete flight engineer training. We hope this will lead to a person better prepared to be successful in the flight engineer career field.”
A non-prior service individual accepted into the Reserve through the High School to Flight School program would go through basic military training and then attend the 91-day Aircraft Electrical and Environmental Systems Apprentice Course at Sheppard AFB, Texas.
“If they successfully complete those two courses, they will continue on to Lackland (AFB, Texas) to enter into aircrew training,” Jones said. “If for some reason they are not successful in completing the aircrew portion of training, they can continue service in their maintenance career field.
“That’s important because our maintenance manning is critical as well. It’s a win-win for both operations and maintenance.”
Jones said that once new flight engineers have completed their initial qualification training, they will be placed on a full-time active status for two years to build up their experience in the position.
“Our desire is to get these individuals up to instructor status as soon as possible,” Jones said.
Lt. Gen. Maryanne Miller, AFRC commander, has authorized the command to test out High School to Flight School on a small scale beginning immediately.
Jones said the test program will take place at two Reserve C-5 units, the 439th Airlift Wing at Westover Air Reserve Base, Massachusetts and the 433rd AW at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, and two C-130 units, the 302nd AW at Peterson AFB, Colorado and the 910th AW at Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Ohio).
The chief has worked closely with the AFRC Recruiting Service to get the program off the ground.
“We are excited about High School to Flight School and our recruiters in these test base locations are ready to go,” said Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Zwelling, AFRC recruiting manager. “We’re confident we can find young people with the right skill sets to be successful flight engineers.”
Jones said the command is hoping to get at least 10 flight engineer candidates during this initial phase of High School to Flight School.
“If we can get at least 10 into the program and if we are successful, we’ll recommend further implementation to the commander. It’s not a quick process. It’ll be at least six months before we know if our new candidates are making a good transition into the program.”
Non-Reservists interested in the High School to Flight School program should contact their local recruiter or visit Air Force Reserve.