Doing the math, keeping the Pave Hawk in the air

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Julie Parker
  • Nellis Air Force Base Public Affairs
When flying, the last thing a pilot would want to worry about is whether or not there is enough fuel to make it back to base. Luckily, the pilot has the flight engineer on his side. The flight engineer's responsibilities are not to be taken lightly. As a flight engineer for the 66th Rescue Squadron, Staff Sgt. Pete Gehrig has more on his plate than most people.

Seated in the HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter along with the pilot, co-pilot and aerial gunner, it's the flight engineer's job to ensure the aircraft is operational and able to respond quickly if an in-flight emergency occurs. This requires in-depth knowledge of how the aircraft works from nose to tail.

The flight engineer's responsibilities include inspecting the aircraft before each flight. "Preflighting" a fully combat-equipped aircraft can take up to an hour. At this time, a diagnostic check of the helicopter's systems and components is done to ensure it is ready for flight.

Before and continuously during flight, the flight engineer is responsible for computing the aircraft's power, fuel amount, maneuverability and load capability. Performing these calculations, as well as diagnosing and troubleshooting any malfunctions without hesitation, requires a mathematic and mechanical aptitude, expressed Sergeant Gehrig.

In addition to being mentally capable, a flight engineer needs to be physically capable.

"Upper body strength is important to have when you are hoisting (pararescuemen) in and out of the helicopter," he said.

Jack of all trades, master of nothing is how Sergeant Gehrig describes his job. At any given time, a flight engineer can find himself performing his own duties as well as the duties of other flight-crew members. Because they work so close together, the camaraderie among the crew is strong and different from other career fields in the Air Force.

"It's a little strange for people who retrain into this job because we work so closely with the pilots," he said. "When you work here, you have to be willing to put your life on the line for each other."

The technical training for a flight engineer consists of combat survival, water survival and parachuting, and basic and aircraft-specific flight engineer training. Many people who begin the course don't finish. In fact, the wash-out rate for flight engineer students fluctuates between 40 and 60 percent, said Sergeant Gehrig."

It takes certain characteristics to do this job," he said. "You have to have a strong personality and be able to stand your ground."

With the rigor of the job, flight engineers have to prove they have what it takes to be a member of this elite society. Sergeant Gehrig said he takes great pride in his job, but he recognizes he can't perform the mission alone.

"From the maintainer to the pilot, every person has a role to play to ensure the mission is complete."