Aviation History

Both B-36 and Concorde Flight Engineer stations had a lot of buttons, dials, and switches. But only that of the Peacemaker had levers. Here’s why.

In earlier days, most larger (both military and civil) aircraft were designed and built with a flight engineer’s position.

A flight engineer (FE), also sometimes called an air engineer, is the member of an aircraft’s flight crew who monitors and operates its complex aircraft systems. In the early era of aviation, the position was sometimes referred to as the “air mechanic”. Flight engineers can still be found on some larger fixed-wing airplanes and helicopters. A similar crew position exists on some spacecraft. In most modern aircraft, their complex systems are both monitored and adjusted by electronic microprocessors and computers, resulting in the elimination of the flight engineer’s position.

In earlier days, most larger (both military and civil) aircraft were designed and built with a flight engineer’s position.

Look at the following photo: it features the FE station aboard the Concorde supersonic airliner.

Concorde’s FE station

Why did the Concorde flight engineer have so many buttons, dials, and switches?

‘Define “so many”. Consider the FE station for the Convair B-36,’ Charles Grimes, former Pilot, Instructor, Fleet Captain at Midway Airlines (2000-2001), says on Quora.

B-36’s FE station

‘Although the Concorde was no picnic.

‘The answer in both cases is the FE’s job was to monitor and control the aircraft systems—all of them. Everything was there to allow the FE to “see” how the systems were configured, what the status was at any given time, make changes to system operations and run normal and emergency checklists as required.

‘By the time of the Concorde, turbine aircraft no longer required the FE station to include thrust control levers, only the pilot’s station had power levers. In the[B-36 FE’s station] photo above you can see bank of levers. The pilot’s were happy to let the FE set power which required setting throttle, propellors (manifold pressure) and mixture (correct adjustment of air/fuel mixture impacts fuel burn and cylinder head temperature) and tinker with the settings to synchronize the propellers to reduce vibration/noise.’

‘Concorde was a 60s/70s product, but it was decades ahead of its time upon launch,’ James Kirk, an aviation expert, says on Quora.

‘Concorde did use digital computers for the air intake ramp system for the engines. They needed a way to control the amount of air going into the engine, but doing it manually was not going to be possible, so they had to create a computer to control the intake.’

Ian Thompson, another aviation expert, points out on Quora;

‘Funny story on a Concorde’s last flight it was a tradition that the flight engineer inserted his hat in a gap to the right of the console. As the plane cooled down the hat became permanently jammed in position.’

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force and Unknown

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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