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My First 100 Hours as a C-130 Flight Engineer

My first one-hundred hours in the Herk were a bit different than most students. I started down the typical path. I went to BFE at the Arkansas Air National Guard. In 2005 the guard and reserves sent FE students to the Arkansas Air Guard unit as opposed to Altus. BFE was an interesting mix of way too much new information and the realization that I just might be an enlisted military flyer.

C-130 182nd Airlift Wing siting on the ramp sunrise Peoria Ill
C-130 182nd Airlift Wing sitting on the ramp sunrise Peoria Ill

The phrase drinking from a fire hose was introduced to me here. BFE was 6 weeks. There was a block test about twice a week. All block tests had to be passed. When I went through the washout rate was about 25%. My class started with 9 and 6 graduated.

Another concept introduced to me was that our minds are like an iceberg. The iceberg is only so big and it can only hold so many penguins. The penguins represent new ideas and the iceberg is our individual memory capacity. Growing older is kind of like global warming, the iceberg is melting as we age whether we believe it or not.

My Dad pinned on my wings when I graduated from BFE. He was an ECM maintenance troop on the B-47 in the early 1950s. My parents gave me a Torgoen watch for my new flying career. It was perfect for the 130, big NVG friendly numbers with a large red hand for Z time. This is still my daily wear watch 20 years later.

Next was Fairchild AFB, WA for SERE. It was here that things started to take a turn south. I feared this school more than any other, I heard way too many bad things about it. It was here I injured my shoulder. I was running from the bad guys during an evasion exercise and while trying to jump over a log and pull my pack back on my shoulder I pulled or tore something. I was trying to avoid capture. They caught me. I hadn’t even been through the worst of it yet. I was still in the “fun” part of the course. We were in the field for 6 days, camping basically. I hate camping but I was sure it was going to be more fun than being held prisoner for 36 hours during the next part of the course. The injury was documented by the flight doc at Fairchild. He gave me some Ranger Candy and sent me on my way. Of course, I stayed in the course! I didn’t want to ever come back here again, ever.

Next was back to Little Rock for the flying portion of the program. It was during my 4th flight that I realized I was not going to be able to continue. Besides the pain, I couldn’t lift my right hand high enough to touch any of the controls above my head. I saw the flight doc at Little Rock he sent me to an ortho doc. After an X-ray and MRI, the ortho doc said I tore my rotator cuff in addition to other damage to boot. He wanted to open me up the next day. I was not going have major surgery while living on base 500 miles from home. I called back to Peoria and they said come home and get it fixed there. I went to a great sports clinic and saw a surgeon who would rather not do surgery if he could avoid it. So after about 4 months of PT and other procedures, I was good enough to get back into the game. Instead of sending me back to Little Rock I finished my training at Peoria. It was great to be able to fly there instead of Little Rock. It was a great time for the FE section in Peoria. The instructors and Chief were very tight, all on the same page for the most part.

It didn’t take long before I was referred to as “Black Cloud”. This would be the first of many things I’d be called over the course of my military flying career. Most things I was called were decent, not too demeaning. We’re all familiar with Murphy’s Law, If anything could go wrong it will. Interesting side note – I know the original Murphy’s daughter.

Instructors started to talk to each other about what other equipment they should carry when flying with me. On an early flight we had to run the Smoke & Fumes Elimination checklist, of course, we were above 10,000’ and needed to get on O2. The instructor I was flying with discovered her O2 hose wasn’t long enough to reach what she needed to see during the emergency. An extension o2 hose was discussed with the instructors as a good item to carry when flying with me.

I didn’t see higher than a few thousand feet until close to my tenth flight. Most of the training hours in the Herk are at low altitudes, under a couple of thousand feet for the most part. We were doing a cross-country for the Nav. I don’t think we were going anywhere really, except to burn holes in the clouds. I was giggling like a little school girl as the altimeter cracked 10,000’. Pushed my mike button and said, “I’ve never been this high in the 130.” There was complete silence. Then the AC turned and looked at me and said: “Welcome to the club”. I didn’t want to ask him exactly what he meant. He was usually a douche. He also happened to be the squadron commander. He left for a headquarters job before I was fully qualified, I never had to fly with him again.

View out the center window of C-130 of light wispy clouds
2014 Over The Pond West Bound Going Home

What was so amazing was the view. From the FE seat, I could see over the pilot’s heads. I could see the open sky from one outboard engine to the other, over 180º. I really wanted to look out the windows more but my eyes were fixated inside that aircraft.

“Are you Blown’ smoke?” My instructor asked? I did some stupid rookie thing and didn’t want him to know it, nor did I want to own up to it. Of course, he knew exactly what I did and he knew what I was doing at that moment. I told him “Yes! I was blowing smoke.” On the ramp is were the “Real” debrief happened, just student and instructor. It was just a few minutes of time to get from the aircraft back to Ops but this is where the pearls of wisdom would be shared. But only if the student was really listening. These lessons weren’t in the books, they were attained the hard way. We then had a little discussion about crew integrity and how all our lives in that airplane are dependent on each other’s actions. I couldn’t afford to lie to the crew, either through omission or an outright lie. Someone else on the crew might have the answer that might just help us all land safely together.

During my first few hundred hours, my eyes didn’t venture too far beyond the panels inside the plane. I was too worried to look around much, let alone enjoy the ride. One of my responsibilities was the window anti-icing. On the rare occasion one of the windows could arc and the system would need to be turned off. I saw what looked like static electricity on the outside of the front windows. It didn’t look like arcing, it was too subtle and was traveling all over the windows. It wasn’t localized at the electrical contacts for the anti-icing system. The Nav spoke up first and said, “We’ve got St Elmo’s Fire”. I thought that it was pretty common and said that I wondered when I’d see it. The Nav said that He’s been flying for 25 years and this was his first time. I’d see it one more time during my first 100 hours and then never again. What are the conditions for St Elmo’s Fire?

Shut down 10 engines, had smoke on the flight deck, lost a hydraulic system and several other “interesting” emergencies. On more than one occasion instructors I was flying with would say “I’ve never seen that before?” Always with a kind of twisted look on their face. Most FEs go years without shutting down an engine. They only see it during their annual trip to the Sim.

Turning final approach in Afghanistan
Max effort take-off

There are many things that “Must” be memorized as an FE. One of the first things we worked on in BFE were the C-130 limitations. This was 4 pages of numbers and a few phrases that had to be committed to memory. I will not go through these but you can download them at the end of this post in the acronyms section and see for yourself. The next thing thrown into the mix was Boldface. That you can also download. Not only did these get burned into my memory, but I had to know what they could tell me about what was going on with the aircraft at that moment or in the near future. A good FEs understanding of the aircraft had to be such that the limitations would not only be seen on the indicators, but the FE would intuitively know what was going on with the aircraft based on the indications whether that indication was within limitations or not. If the limitations were out of limits the FE must know how to correct the problem or respond to the emergency.

One of my first ESPs was something that could only happen to me. I saw number two prop go out of limits, the RPM shot way down then shot back up past 102. I looked at Matt, my instructor, in total disbelieve at what I was seeing. He looked at me and asked, “So, what are you going to do?” I keyed my mic and said “ESP number two engine!” We had no idea what caused it. But it was out of limits. Number 5 and 9 from the “Engine Shutdown Conditions” list. When we landed we discovered that one of the deice boots from the number two prop delaminated from the blade and was sucked into the engine.

My black cloud never went away. Eventually, I was able to sit back and enjoy the ride and still be hyper-vigilant. Towards the end of my military career, I moved to San Antonio and transitioned to the C-5. My scanner check ride on the C-5 wasn’t any different. The pilot’s swing window opened just after we broke ground. We logged a 0.2, check ride over.

When any of these things happen:


1. Engine Fire
2. Turbine Overheat
3. Nacelle Overheat
4. Uncontrollable Power
5. Certain Propeller Malfunctions
6. Uncontrollable rise in TIT
7. Uncontrollable Drop in Oil Press
8. Uncontrollable Rise in Oil Temp
9. Unusual Vibration or Roughness
10. Throttle Control Failure
11. Visible Fluid Leak

This has to happen:





Of course this is all memorized. As a student before each flight, a Bold Face and limitations sheet is filled out and then checked by the AC or an FE instructor.


AC – Aircraft Commander

BFE – Basic Flight Engineer Class

C-130 – The Lockheed C-130 Hercules is an American four-engine turboprop military transport aircraft designed and built originally by Lockheed (now Lockheed Martin). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_C-130_Hercules

C-5A – The Lockheed C-5 Galaxy is a large military transport aircraft originally designed and built by Lockheed, and now maintained and upgraded by its successor, Lockheed Martin. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_C-5_Galaxy

ECM – Electronic Counter Measures

FE – Flight Engineer

Herk – Short for Hercules

LM – Load Master

NVG – Night Vision Goggles

Ops – Base Operations section or building

Ranger Candy – 800mg Ibuprofen

SERE – Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape

Sim – Simulator

Z – Zulu Time, Greenwich Mean Time, Universal Coordinated Time

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  1. I noticed you missed the most important abbreviation on your list. LM (Loadmaster) the main reason they designed the herc and provided a crew so they could fly us to do our jobs

  2. Great Posts. I was a former C-130 Nav. Finished out as a pilot. Most of my flying was with the ANG. I finished up AD with the 50th. I was thinking about starting a similar blog about my flying adventures, bros, and deployments.

    Reach out to me via email . I know we’ve flown with the same folks. I pretty sure we know all of the same douch bags.


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