How Can I Begin a Career in Flight Engineering?

Research what it takes to become a flight engineer. Learn about the duties of this job, the education requirements and salary range to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Engineering & Technology Management degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Flight Engineer?

A flight engineer focuses on monitoring mechanical systems and the engine during flight. Prior to flight they perform engine checks and will check all systems to ensure that they are working properly. They also assist with flight plan preparation and make sure the craft has enough fuel for the planned flight. During flight they monitor fuel levels, monitor the engine and monitor all mechanical and electrical systems to make sure everything is working properly. They also document all checks and any changes made, and they answer any questions the captain has. In some cases the flight engineer is also the first officer.

Degree Required Associate's degree minimum; bachelor's degree preferred; Flight engineering certificate and a medical certificate
Education Field of Study Fixed-wing navigation and flight training; aeronautical or mechanical engineering; aerospace flight, electromechanical systems; communication; aviation mechanical engineering; thermodynamics
Licensure Optional commercial pilot license
Key Responsibilities Navigate fixed-wing, multi-engine aircraft used in transporting cargo or passengers; inspect aircraft and ensure safe flight conditions for aircraft and passengers; monitor weather and record critical flight operation readings; communicate with flight crew and ground support
Job Growth (2014-2024) 1% (for all airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers)*
Median Annual Salary (2016) $70,092**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **Payscale.com

What Education is Necessary to Begin a Career in Flight Engineering?

Two years of college is considered the minimum educational requirement for flight engineers; however, most airlines prefer to hire applicants who are college graduates. In order to increase job prospects, you can acquire a bachelor's degree in aeronautical or mechanical engineering. As an undergraduate aeronautical engineering major, you'll study courses in space systems, aerospace flight, aerospace control and electronic circuits laboratory. Bachelor's degree programs in mechanical engineering offer classes such as thermodynamics, engineering mechanics, engineering analysis, electromechanical systems and renewable energy systems.

Upon graduation, you can enroll in pilot training programs that are approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). These are offered by private flight schools, some universities and colleges, or by FAA-certified flight instructors. Programs consist of simulator instruction and ground school. You may also acquire flight engineer training in the military.

How Do I Become Licensed?

To qualify for a flight engineering certificate, the FAA requires that you be at least 21 years old in order to hold a license and 19 years old to take the practical knowledge tests. You must be able to speak and write English, and have either two years of training or three years of experience in aircraft engine repair. You'll also need a commercial pilot's license. Additionally, you must have amassed either 200 hours of flight training on an aircraft with multiple engines or 100 hours as a flight engineer in the U.S. Armed Forces.

A strict medical examination is given to ensure that you are healthy, with good vision and hearing. During the testing process, you'll be given a series of flight knowledge examinations that cover areas such as airplane systems, engine operations, airplane equipment, and theory of flight and aerodynamics. Knowledge of FAA regulations must also be demonstrated, and a passing score of 70% is required.

What Job Duties Are Required?

Flight engineers are third in command on flight crews. This means you may be in charge of monitoring instrument panels and switches, ensuring that luggage or cargo are properly distributed, and inspecting the aircraft for wear or damage before takeoff. You make notations regarding engine performance and the amount of fuel used during a flight. It's also necessary to check weather conditions and to inform ground maintenance personnel whenever repairs are needed. In case of emergencies, you might use your extensive knowledge to counteract equipment malfunctions. As a flight engineer, you won't necessarily fly aircraft, but you can use your experience to go on to become a pilot.

How Much Could I Expect to Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, pilots, copilots and flight engineers who worked in scheduled air transport services earned median annual salaries of $137,120 in 2015 (www.bls.gov). Those who were employed by the federal government earned $98,710 on average. PayScale.com reported that as of October 2016, flight engineers earned annual salaries ranging from $34,521 to $118,616, including bonuses. The BLS reported median annual salaries in the 25th to 75th percentile range were between $85,730 and $163,130 as of May 2015.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Flight engineers share many common duties with helicopter pilots and commercial pilots. All of these professionals must perform system checks prior to takeoff. They ensure the engine and all instruments and mechanical systems are working properly. They also file flight plans and make sure the craft has enough fuel for the scheduled flight. During the flight, helicopter and commercial pilots focus on navigating the craft, while the focus of a flight engineer is on monitoring the engine, fuel levels and mechanical systems to ensure everything continues to work properly. That in-flight focus is the main difference between flight engineers and helicopter and commercial pilots. Helicopter and commercial pilots need an associate's or bachelor's degree, and they also need to complete flight school and log the required number of training hours for the type of license they hold.

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