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Give all or go home – a check ride for aircrew

photo of flight engineer

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Alex Stoll, 6th Air Refueling Squadron flight engineer, sorts paperwork during preflight on a KC-10 Extender Dec. 17, 2019, at Travis Air Force Base, California. The 6th ARS aircrew flew to Scott AFB, Illinois, to update training and guidance on aeromedical evacuation procedures for KC-10 Extender aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Traci Keller)

photo of flight engineer

Tech. Sgt. Sean Minnis, 60th Aerial Refueling Squadron flight engineer, checks the temperature of the cockpit March 28, 2019, over California. The KC-10 crew offloaded 19,000 gallons of fuel refueling two A-10 Thunderbolt IIs and one Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Cameron Otte)

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – A sibilant humming sound, like a swarm of roaring bees, fills the 65-foot tall vessel. The humming is followed by a loud series of beeps and a screeching honk heard more than 100 yards away. The flight engineer is preparing the C-5M Super Galaxy, the largest aircraft in the U.S. Air Force, for takeoff.

Despite all the noise, he manages to hear a pen scratch a sheet of paper as a flight engineer evaluator peers over the engineer’s shoulder to evaluate his every move during his check ride.

“The check ride is everything, it proves the competence of a flight engineer,” said Master Sgt. Kurt Nemecek, 22nd Airlift Squadron flight engineer superintendent. Nemecek was one of seven flight engineers who were evaluated over three days from Nov. 2 – 5 at Travis AFB. “A failure could warrant removal from the career field.”

Every 17 months, a C-5M Super Galaxy flight engineer completes a check ride to validate their training. The examination could happen on any day, at any time. Six flight engineers from three units joined Nemecek for the evaluations earning their Federal Aviation Administration Airman’s Certificate in the process.

A check ride is required by the FAA in the United States to receive an aircraft pilot's certification, a rating for additional flight privileges and for flight engineers.

There are three parts to the test: a verbal examination, which is given prior to the check ride, a test on aircraft knowledge and a practical evaluation during the flight.

Flight engineers are responsible for inspecting and operating the mechanical systems of their aircraft, said Maj. Kristofer Fernandez, 22nd AS director of operations. These systems include everything from the aircraft breaker panel, to warning lights, to weight distribution and cabin pressure.

“Their job requires a high degree of skill and attention to detail allowing pilots to complete their missions,” Fernandez said. “Flight engineers are the linchpin of crew resource management for the C-5M, and FAA certifications continue to validate their importance on large crew aircraft and the strategic airlift mission set. Simply put, the highly complex systems on the Super Galaxy demand the adept technical skills of a flight engineer.”

Earning the FAA Airman’s Certification allows the Airmen to serve as commercial flight engineers in turbojet civilian aircraft – which could further one’s aviation career outside of the Air Force, said Fernando Daleccio, Vintage Wings Flight Engineer Services Inc. president and CEO, who certifies the flight engineers.

“It is one of the highest certifications a military flight engineer can achieve,” said Daleccio.

Nemecek said the way the Air Force invests into their personnel is why he is so thankful to be an Airman.

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