Training to Become a Flight Engineer
The training for Flight Engineers changed numerous times from 1939 to 1946. Air Ministry Orders laying out the parameters in each new revision to meet current needs.
The "New Deal"
A decision was made by RAF Top Brass to eliminate the co-pilot in heavy bombers. Choosing instead to have just the one pilot on each aircraft. One of the plan's objectives was to speed up pilot training. And by simply eliminating a second pilot they doubled the number of pilots available and doubled the output of flight training units.
This opened the way for a new Trade. The Flight Engineer one of whose duties would be to assist the pilot.
Richard Butler enlisted in the RAF Volunteer Reserve early in 1941, he was selected to be a Fitter (A), "A" for airframe. His training path would begin during the requirements of the 1939 Air Ministry Order regarding Flight Engineers and then follow the 1941 AMO when it was introduced.
The courses taken at Initial Training Wing were broken down into sections.
At this time the RAF drew only from within its own ranks to fill the F/E positions.
One Air Ministry Order would make all Fitter(A) personnel ineligible to become Flight Engineer. However, the rapid escalating requirements changed these criteria.
An Air Ministry Order on July 9th 1942 allowed all airframe trained RAF to be eligible for Flight Engineer duty. Followed closely by another Air Ministry Order on July 16th 1942 allowing new recruits to Directly Enter the RAF as trainees for Flight Engineers.
More specialized skills were added to the list of duties and a new category was developed. LAC Butler succeeded in passing his proficiency tests and now became a Fitter 2 (A).
On satisfactory completion of his Flight Engineer course LAC Butler continued on to operational training. Remustered to a F/E and promoted to Temporary Sergeant.
No. 1659 Heavy Conversion Unit
In February of 1944 Sgt. Butler was posted to Base 61, No.6 Group (RCAF) Training Base, No. 1659 HCU located at Topcliffe.
Sgt. Butler now became part of an existing crew Captained by F/Sgt. George Hartford. who had selected these men at one of the many Operational Training Units a few months previously. The crew consisted of Sgt. Burns Foster, F/O Norman Johnson, F/O John Knox, Sgt."Sig" Tait. While at No.1659 one other crewman would be added to crew, Air gunner Sgt. Paul Pietrowski would fill out the crew.
The seven men would spend the next four to five weeks working together and mastering the handling of a bigger heavier four engine aircraft.They would be aided by expeirnced airmen who had served their Tours and now were training the new crews.
With the help of one of these experienced Flight Engineers, Sgt. Butler put into practice all he had learned at ITW.
The days and nights were filled with cross country navigation or bombing exercises. Many practises at take offs and landings nicknamed "Circuits and Bumps", Air to Air firing, there were also traing on flying on 3 engines.
The crew also were trained in Fighter Affiliation, which is best explained at
The final test came when the whole crew were subjected to an exercise designed to test what they had learned while at HCU. They would repeat an exercise that they had been shown by the instructors. Butler and the crew would fly the exercise "Solo". If they passed the "solo" flight, it was off to an operational squadron after a short Leave.
419 Squadron Halifax and Lancaster
Sgt. Butler and the F/Sgt. Hartford crew did not have long to wait for their first operational sortie. The Battle Order for March 7th. detailed the aircraft Butler was assigned for the night along with the hour of the Briefing and Marshalling time. Nothing more. All the rest would be presented at the Briefing.
Sgt. Butler would have time to get ready, write letters or bicycle out to the dispersal pad and check out the Halifax he was assigned to. The crew would all meet up at the Briefing and find out where they were going that night.
Crews sometimes had a good idea of where they were going, simply by talking to the fuel bowser driver and seeing how much fuel was being transferred into the aircraft.
Fully briefed on the target, bomb load, weather conditions, known flak locations they headed to one of many Dispersal Pads spread over Middleton St. George. It would be up to Sgt. Butler and his pilot to complete the Pre-Flight checks.
Beginning with the outside, Butler would check all surfaces for damage and make sure they were in working order. All removable panels were back in place and secure. The blades of the propellers were damage free. Check for any fluid leaks and that the tires were in good order and properly inflated.
Then an inspection of the interior; oxygen lines and bottles were checked, internal latches were secure, fire extinguishers fastened down and charged. Check that the escape axe was stored in its proper location.
The pilot and Sgt. Butler would then go over the remarks and damage reports found in the "Snag book" with the ground crew Sergeant. A Complete check to make sure all of those items listed had all been properly attended to.
The pilot would then sign off on the Form 700. The aircraft was now Butler's and the pilots.
From Start Up to Landing
Each crew had their ritual before beginning a sortie. Some revolved around the relieving of themselves on the tires or other such place, before climbing aboard and heading out.
Sgt. Butler would pick up his parachute, his emergency tool kit with wrenches, pliers, wire string and other items and climb in and up to his position next to the pilot. In front of him a large display of dials set up in groups of four one for each engine.
The pilot checked the intercom and determined each of the crew were ready, and then called for the ground crew to stand clear of the propellers. Sgt Butler entered his first comments of the night into his Flight Engineers Log.
As the aircraft's Captain F/Sgt. Hartford called out for the engine start-up. One by one each of the four engines sputtered to life. Sgt. Butler kept an eye on his gauges. As all the engines came up to temperature Sgt. Butler informed Hartford they were ready to move out. With one more check of the crew's intercom and oxygen, Butler duly noted everything in his in his log, before aiding Hartford to move from the Dispersal Pad to the perimeter track taxiing eventually to the take-off area.
With one final check of the dials the heavily laden bomber headed off down the runway, Butler assisting with flaps, throttles and raising the under carriage. After making the spiralling climb to the designated height he would begin adjusting each engine for maximum power and best optimum fuel consumption.
For the next six to ten hours Butler would be busy working in almost total darkness or with help of some moonlight, filling in his log every thirty minutes or whenever changes made to engine settings or gauges showed incorrect readings. He was constantly checking the fuel consumption, making adjustments to the engine or propellers for a smooth vibration less flight.
The balancing of the fuel tanks was an important task and one that if not done correctly could spell the end of the aircraft. Keeping in mind the balance of the aircraft, from his console he moved fuel from one tank to another. If the wrong valves were not set fuel could be cut off to all the engines.
The fuel was moved around also in case of a leak or being hit by enemy fire, it would give the crew a better chance of getting back to base.
As if not busy enough with those duties, a F/E also acted as lookout utilizing the large Perspex of the cockpit to watch for enemy aircraft or friendly aircraft drifting into their aircraft's path.
As they returned, he again began aiding the pilot with the controls and landing gear. Once on the ground and having taxiied to the dispersal pad the night was not over for the F/E. He and the pilot completed the "snag book". Reporting items for the ground crew to repair before the next op. Once again, he and the pilot completed the Form 700 to return the aircraft back to the ground crew Sergeant.
Then it was off to the De-Briefing, food and rest. Unless of course they were given a Pass or Leave. Then it was food, clean up and head for town.
KB712 "S-for Smitty-LOVE" proves lucky for Sgt. Butler
As 419 converted from Halifax to Lancaster aircraft, Butler would find himself behind the controls of KB712 for more than half of the remaining
operations he and his crew would complete.
KB712 "VR-L" or "S for Smitty-Love", was not always lucky enough to escape the attention of German defences.
On one operation on the Ruhr area in July of '44, the crew found themselves the center of the unwanted glare of six or seven
German defensive search lights. The searchlights soon coned the Lancaster and the guns from below found their target's range. Flak damage to the bomb bay doors, fuselage and some of the engine nacelles were the result.
The skills of the Flight Engineer helped bring the crew and damaged aircraft back to base safely.
KB712 wasn't without its own little quirks. After enduring the dangers of an operation on the heavily protected boat yards at Kiel
and dropping their bomb load on the target, the crew was disappointed to find that because of an electrical fault on VR-L
all the bombs had dropped in "Safe" mode.
Completion of a Tour with 419
The crew's training and skill brought them through over 30 ops. Including three "Garden" operations laying mines along the enemy coast. Two sorties with engine failures and twice with flak damage. Thirty-four operations together and for Hartford himself 36 operations. For the crew some promotions and new postings are listed here.
F/O George Hartford promoted to F/O June 26, 1944
F/O N. Douglas Johnston Navigator, "screened" from squadron in September of '44
Sgt. Burns W Foster Bomb Aimer, Commissioned to P/O August of '44
F/O John Knox WAG , posted to No. 1664 CU as instructor
Sgt. Henry Richard Butler RAF F/E posted to Burma after his Tour Leave
Sgt. Sig O.V. Tait Air Gunner, posted to No. 1664 CU as instructor
Sgt. R. A. Piotrewaski Air Gunner, Commissioned to P/O August of '44
South East Asia Command
After his extended Leave Warrant Officer Richard Butler had a complete change of scenery. No more cold weather or freezing flights to Germany. With his posting to S.E.A.C, he found himself half way across the world. Stationed at No.2 Elementary Flying Training School, No.1 (Indian) .
WO Butler still wearing his Flight Engineer badge used his Fitter skills to maintain the training aircraft at No.2, His posting here lasted a little over ten months.
By May on 1946 his service with the RAF was completed. He was received high recommendations from his last Commanding Officer "any engineering post particularly in the motor industry".
Our Thanks to the Butler family for sharing their photos
and WO Butler's story.
Thanks also to RAF Flight Engineer & Air Engineer Assoc. for sharing
their photos and aiding in understanding the Flight Engineer training