View Full Version : Flight Engineer Training

5th February 2019, 09:43
RCAF Press Release 6377 dated 30 August 1944 (transcribed on my behalf by Huguette Oates) gives a very detailed account of Flight Engineer training which may interest Forumites.


Members of the Royal Canadian Air Force undergoing training as flight engineers in Great Britain are winning a high reputation both for themselves and for their instructors in Canada where their preliminary training is done.

The writer has recently completed a visit to one of the largest stations of the Royal Air Force in Great Britain. There airmen of the RCAF are doing their
type training on Halifax or Lancaster bombers – the aircraft in which they will eventually fly in operations with Canadian squadrons.

The RCAF is now being equipped to undertake this training itself but meanwhile, after some months preliminary work in Canada, flight engineers are arriving in Britain for the final weeks of training.

It does not take long for a casual visitor to find out whether he is on a happy station or not. There is no doubt that Canada’s young flight engineers are on one of the happiest. The Air Commodore who commands it is an officer of long experience and holds a technical engineering commission in the RAF He knows the mass of practical and theoretical knowledge which a flight engineer must possess, and that there is a limit to the amount of instruction which even the most alert minds can assimilate. For that reason, Saturday afternoons and Sundays are free periods in which trainees and instructors can make full use of the recreational facilities available on the Station and in the neighbouring towns. By working slightly longer hours during the week, no training time is lost.

With the Group Captain who commands the School of Technical Training, I studied the training programme which shows at a glance what is being done at any hour of the day. Here again careful planning – the outcome of long training experience in the RAF is apparent.

In each 48 hours of classes, thirty-six are devoted to technical training and twelve hours to air crew training. Air crew training, in addition to its own value as such, has an additional value in providing a break from the purely technical instruction which demands a high degree of concentration. This vital training consists briefly, in giving the flight engineer all the background information and instruction which will make him a good “all-rounder” in the air. There is, for instance, dinghy drill, fire-fighting in aircraft, physiological aspects of high altitude flying, physical and combatant training, and a grounding in meteorology and navigation. An hour spent on dinghy drill has thus its recreational and entertainment value after a long session on say, the principles of the emergency operation of the fuel system.


Theoretical instruction given in the classroom by officers of the RAF Education Service keeps slightly ahead of the workshop tuition where theory becomes practice. In each shop, some three hundred and sixty airmen work in groups of eight or nine each under its own instructor. For explanation, there is not only blackboard and chalk but models and “gadgets” on which demonstrations may be given. The term flight engineer gives only a brief idea of the duties involved. As I saw trainees studying the operation of hydraulic gear, watching an automatic pilot demonstration, and inspecting the pipe-lines of an aircraft’s oxygen apparatus, I began to realize some of the flight engineers’ many responsibilities. One of the Chief Instructor’s staff put them in plain words. “Flight engineers are not mechanics. They are knob pullers,” he said. “They must know what happens and understand why it happens when they pull the knobs. Then, if anything goes wrong, they know what should be done for the best.”

In more academic terms, the flight engineer is the technical adviser to the pilot on the functioning of the engines, fuel, oil and coolant systems both before and during the flight. He has also to ensure effective liaison between the captain of the aircraft and the maintenance crews on the ground, to carry out practicable emergency repairs in the air and to act as a stand-by air gunner. In certain types of aircraft the flight engineer has to be able to act as pilot’s assistant to the extent of being able to fly straight and level and on a set course.

“How are the Canadians getting on?” I asked the Chief Instructor. There was no hesitation about his answer. “They are very good indeed,” he said. “Their training in Canada has given them a very fine basis and when they take their examinations, we expect them to do very well.” A training progress card is maintained for each airman. We took two at random. The first read “Electrics and instruments, practical ability “A”, technical knowledge “A”. I glanced at the second card – “Airframes – technical knowledge “A”. I glanced at the second card – “Airframes – practical ability “A”, technical knowledge “B”.

We left the office and walked out into the workshop. There, I noticed something else. The airman does not go to the barber – the barber comes to him, another saving of instructional time.

Flight engineers receive instruction on the airframe, the electrics, instruments and instrument flying panel and, of course, the engines during their type of training. Among a class getting first-hand knowledge of a Halifax which had flown to the Station only a few weeks previously was Sergeant Alfred Pratt, of 169 Portland Avenue, St. Vital, Winnipeg. I asked him how he found the course. “Well,” he said with a grin, “if you don’t know your stuff when you leave here all I can say is that there must be something wrong with you”.

Studying sectional model of a Hercules engine of the type which powers the Halifax Mark III were more Canadians, among them Sergeant J.A. Sutherland of 185 Stewart Street, Ottawa, Ontario. He arrived in Britain just before “D” Day and finds life at this RAF city very good, though he confesses that he misses the greater variety of food obtainable in Canada.

A notice chalked on a black-board announced the times of evening classes for extra instruction. These are entirely voluntary and so far 1,700 attendances have been registered. Another poster proclaimed the wide scope of the RAF Education Services available on the station. Spare time courses with tuition by experts are officers in such diverse subjects as French, German, horticulture, woodwork and music.

Learning how the propeller of an aeroplane is feathered were Sergeants Jack Edwards of 89 Hillsdale East, Toronto, Ontario – formerly a time-keeper for the Toronto Ship Building Company; Bill Blythe of 357 Sackville Street, Toronto; Dave Dennis of 975 West 22nd Avenue, Vancouver and Earle Colter of Hazlitt, Saskatchewan. Sergeant Colter is an enthusiastic baseball player. “We got the real hard ball equipment on the station here although we could not get it over in Canada. Most of the August Bank Holiday we spent playing baseball and we hope to get league games organized soon,” he said.

The instructor resumed his demonstration of “feathering” a propeller – the operation carried out by a flight engineer should an engine fail – in which the blades of the propeller are turned to give the minimum resistance to the wind.
“Synthetic Flying”

An instructor who wore the DFM and the 1939-43 Star took me into the engine handling trainer section. Here are the “disembodied” noses of four-engined bombers with all pilot and flight engineer controls intact. Without leaving the hangar, a trainee may make a thousand miles flight carrying out the duties of the flight engineer – priming the engines, setting the throttles starting and running up, keeping a keen eye on each of the forty instruments on his panel and making entries in his log. Every instrument registers, just as it does in normal flight but the sole source of power is a three h.p. electric motor. If the fight engineer makes a mistake the engines will refuse to start, or, if already running, will stop.

Before starting, engines are primed – in the same way that the motorist “tickles” the carburettor of a car to ensure easy starting. I watched a flight engineer using the priming pump. Then he pressed the starter button, but without success. “You see,” said the instructor, “he did not prime sufficiently. He only pumped seven times whereas ten is the correct number. If he had ever-primed, the result would have been the same”.

Whilst on this wingless flight, trainees can be presented with practical problems. The indicator on a petrol gauge may suddenly drop, as if a fuel tank had been holed – then the flight engineer will have to decide which of the remaining tanks he will use for each engine and at what speed and altitude he will advise the pilot to fly in order to conserve his fuel.

Over and over again, trainees go through the drill of switching over from one set of fuel tanks to another in every possible combination of tanks, so that in the sound and fury of battle the job may be done almost automatically.

These synthetic engines earned for their inventors, a flight sergeant and a sergeant, the award of the British Empire Medal. Already they have saved 179,000 gallons of petrol and hours of wear and tear on engines.

When trainees are proficient on “synthetics”, they are given their first practical experience in actual engine running on aircraft parked at dispersal points around the airfield. Just completing their first trip were Sergeant Walter Fedorchuk of Insinger, Saskatchewan, who used to be a farmer, and Sergeant Duncan Campbell of 1036 Dorchester Avenue, Winnipeg, who, before joining the RCAF, was a gold miner in Northern Ontario.

At this stage of my tour, I thoroughly sympathised with the need for study with a recreational value, and with the Squadron Leader in charge of aircrew training went over the huge amenities building. Here, under one roof, are grouped cinema, gymnasium, theatre, and swimming pool. Thoroughly at home in the water were a dozen Canadians who were cooling off after a strenuous game of basketball.

Lives often depend upon swimming and good dinghy drill and no aircrew trainee leaves the station until he can swim at least sufficiently well to cross the few yards of water which may separate a ditched aircraft from its dinghy. New methods of instruction have been devised by the staff which includes Corporal Oswald Williams of Barry, South Wales, a Welsh international water-polo player. The average non-swimmer can be taught to swim in fifteen minutes – a claim which has been substantiated by practical test on several occasions.

Canadians do their training side by side with English cadets but a special RCAF unit has been formed to administer Canadian personnel. Its commanding officer is Wing Commander H.M. Nelson of 156 Snowdon Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, well-known in that city as a member of the Toronto General Trust Corporation with whom he has been since the late nineteen-twenties. Wing Commander Nelson crossed the Atlantic by air to take up his present post. He served as a pilot with the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Air Force in the Great War and joined the RCAF in 1939. He was adjutant of the Initial Training School at Eglinton, Toronto, Ontario, which received the first intake of cadets under the British Commonwealth Air Training Scheme. After other appointments, he became Assistant Director of Manning in June 1943 and, before going to England, was commanding officer of No.3 Aircrew Graduate Training School, Trois Rivieres, Quebec.

Adjutant of the Canadian flight engineer unit is Flight Lieutenant Victor Willing of 5,616 Highbury Street, Vancouver, who, after service in Alaska, went to England as adjutant of the famous RCAF “Wildcat” Typhoon Squadron – one of the few complete operational squadrons to move to England from Canada. Later, he was adjutant of a bomber servicing wing. In the Great War, he served with the 46th Battalion Canadian Infantry and was severely wounded at Passchaendale. In civil life, he was manager of the tire and automotive department of Messsrs. McLennan, McFeely and Prior, wholesale hardware merchants of Vancouver.


In one of the workshops is a “Good Show” Board on which operational stories in which flight engineers have figures with distinction are displayed. One of them tells how a Halifax was attacked by eight JU.88’s as it crossed the coast in a raid on Hamburg. The pilot was wounded and the rear gunner killed. After a second attack, only the flight engineer and the mid-upper gunner were able to remain at their posts. The flight engineer took the place of the pilot and flew on. Caught in a cone of searchlights, the aircraft was hit by heavy flak and two engines caught fire. The flight engineer fully feathered the propellers and dived from nineteen thousand to four thousand feet before releasing the bombs. Then he piloted the plane back to the English coast where he and the remaining gunner were told to bail out. Instead, they landed the aircraft safely. This magnificent feat earned the flight engineer the immediate award of the DFC. It is a story which illustrates what a flight engineer may have to do in an emergency.

Trainees of the RCAF are making a fine start. It will not be long, I am sure, before some of them are figuring on that “Good Show” board.

David Duxbury
6th February 2019, 21:52
Nice find Hugh, well worth the investment in time to read right through. Do you happen to know which was the RAF station involved, or even a suspicion? I know that RAF flight engineers were trained at 4 TTS, but name of station has deserted me for the moment - was it St Athans?
David D

7th February 2019, 00:19
Yes, No.4 TTS, St.Athans it is.

David Duxbury
8th February 2019, 06:53
Actually, come to think of it, the title of the School was usually No. 4 School of Technical Training rather than the way I originally styled it. A small point, but I try to get things right.
David D

8th February 2019, 18:03
Hi all,

I can confirm that Czechoslovak FEs for 311 Sq Liberators were trained at No. 4 SofTT (as abbreviated in their records) at St. Athan.