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The TWA terminal was the architectural high point at Kennedy airport — and dream city for young aircrew. (Courtesy Allwaysny)

Confessions of a Flight Engineer

Flashlights, timers, and breath mints required.

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(Continued from page 1)

During descent, I monitored cabin pressurization. The temperatures in four zones—cockpit, first class, mid, and aft—were controlled largely by airflow, which pressurization changes during ascent, cruise, and particularly descent kept in constant flux. To minimize passenger discomfort, I had to plan ahead when selecting the rate of pressure change—too high a rate would result in pain in Eustachian tubes and screaming babies; too low a rate and you couldn’t open the doors after landing. On approach and landing, I called for the data to calculate speed settings and get a gate assignment.

We were told that during the one-year probation, you didn’t want anyone to learn your name. That meant: Don’t haggle with the schedulers or crews, wear your hat, don’t drink in the airport bar while in uniform, and don’t bust Federal Aviation Regulations by flying low over Grandma’s house. No one wanted to do the rug dance in the chief pilot’s office: shuffling your feet from side to side while getting hollered at, displaying a contrite expression, and swearing you’d learned your lesson and would never do that again.

After 10 months, we were able to brag that we had served as flight engineers on the L-1011, which TWA retired in 1997. I upgraded to first officer on the McDonnell Douglas MD-80. It all happened in my first year at TWA—a glorious introduction to an aviation career.

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