Flight engineer plays vital role in MEDEVAC mission in Afghanistan

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Beth Del Vecchio
  • U.S. Air Forces Central
Editor's note: This story has been localized by the 23rd Wing Public Affairs office. The original story can be found at http://www.afcent.af.mil/news/story.asp?id=123288358.

The job description of an Air Force flight engineer reads like several specialty codes in one.

As part of the aircrew on an HC-130P Combat King, Master Sgt. Rogelio Martinez, 76th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron flight engineer, takes a vital role in the only fixed wing medical evacuation missions flown for Operation ENDURING FREEDOM.

Martinez is deployed from Moody Air Force Base, Ga., where he is part of the 71st Rescue Squadron. The 23rd Wing at Moody is in command of all active duty rescue units within the continental U.S.

Just a few of Martinez's responsibilities include performing aircraft preflight, in-flight and post-flight inspections, maintaining all aircraft checklists during flight, monitoring engine instruments and aircraft systems through operation, computing and applying aircraft weight, balance, and performance data, determining engine fuel consumption using airspeed, atmospheric data, charts, computers, or electronic calculators, reporting abnormal conditions to the pilot and recommending corrective actions.

"I worry about the operability of aviation systems, so the pilots can concentrate on flying," Martinez said. "The aircraft weight is always changing; field elevations, runway conditions and weather changes. I have to make calculations based on these conditions to determine the aircraft's flight performance."

In short, the flight engineer has to be familiar with every piece, system and operation of the aircraft.

"The flight engineer is our systems expert," said Lt. Col. Peter Dominicis, 76th ERQS commander. "He knows more about the aircraft than most pilots ever will."

Martinez sits behind, but right between the pilots on the flight deck. Dominicis, who is also deployed from Moody, said Martinez acts as an objective eye and adds an extra safety element to the flight.

"Pilots learn that if something starts to go wrong, they need to sort of de-automate, step back from technology and fly the plane," he said. "Having an engineer allows us to do that -- to fly the airplane."

Missions flown by the 76th ERQS can be dynamic. The HC-130s assigned are equipped with an air-to-land command and control system, which allows the crew to communicate in real-time with their operations center. This gives them the option to re-task a mission while still in the air, reducing response time. Martinez has to be ready for anything each time they take off on a mission.

"If I was landing at a major hub with 11,000 feet of runway, I could just get my checklist with all the calculations on it already," Dominicis said. "But when you have a 3,000-foot landing strip up at 9,000 feet elevation, it's made of dirt and maybe you have snow there ... that's when you need the guy with the book on his lap using a pencil and a calculator with the charts to see if we can land at our current gross weight. That's when the performance of the aircraft becomes critical."

The position of flight engineer was removed from the flight crew of HC-130J models, but for Dominicis, the human element can't be replaced by technology, especially during flying operations with the ERQS.

"I think if you're just taking off and cruising at a high altitude from point A to point B, a two-pilot flight deck is adequate," he said. "But anytime you get a mission that's dynamic like ours where you're going from point A to point B and the next thing you know, you're headed to point G out of nowhere, if you don't have the undivided attention of your pilots to fly in the terrain, airspeed and following the course, you lose some of the safety aspects of a multi-person crew."

According to Martinez, flying MEDEVAC missions in Afghanistan is a bit different than the personnel recovery-focused training missions he flies at Moody.

"You know, picking up a patient and knowing they are in really bad shape keeps you alert and raises the stakes a bit," he said. "Once you get on the ground, it's a great feeling that we completed the mission and the patient is going to be all right."

He says being deployed gives him a new perspective on his job.

"As a flight engineer you get the feeling of bringing something to the fight each time you fly," he said.