MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. —
When the term “flight engineer” is heard, some may assume it’s a job that requires intense desk work, calculations, and mathematical wizardry. In reality, a flight engineer is far more than that; they also fill the role of a loadmaster, sensor operator, hoist operator and aerial gunner.
Senior Airman Garret Hightower, 54th Helicopter Squadron flight engineer, described his job as a “jack of all trades.”
“When I joined, flight engineer just sounded cool,” said Hightower. “I didn’t really know what it was until I started training. It ended up being a lot more than I was expecting, but I’m glad I got this job.”
No helicopter ever leaves the ground without being thoroughly inspected to ensure it’s in top flying condition. It’s the responsibility of flight engineers to inspect and know how to operate the mechanical systems of all assigned aircraft. The job requires a high degree of technical skill and attention to detail to ensure pilots can complete their missions and return home safely.
When Hightower gets to work, he begins the day by checking maintenance records of the Huey H-1 that will be flying that day, then proceeds to do a pre-flight inspection. Once the pre-flight inspection is completed the aircrew conduct a mission brief, during which they discuss the emergency procedure of the day, weather and mission objectives of the flight.
Once the team is ready for flight, Hightower’s duties are far from over. While flying with convoys, he is responsible for scanning for hazards, ensuring any turns the pilots intend to make can be done safely, keeping pilots informed on positions of other aircraft in formation, updating crew on changing aircraft performance data, and scanning for possible threats.
“My favorite thing about my job is that I get to go out and fly, see and do things other people would never get the opportunity to do,” said Hightower. “Now that I’ve been flying on helos, I’ve kind of fallen in love with it. I eventually want to commission and become a helicopter pilot.”
Becoming a UH-1N Huey pilot would not only give Hightower the opportunity to fly the aircraft, but would also allow him to apply the knowledge he gained from his years spent operating as a loadmaster, sensor operator, hoist operator and aerial gunner.
Off the clock, Hightower, who spends the warmer months hunting and fishing, finds ways to build camaraderie between himself and his teammates in an effort to keep them connected and out of trouble during long North Dakota winters.
“He invites all the guys that live in the dorms over to his house,” said Tech. Sgt. Bradley Engelmann, 54th HS flight chief. “The guys that dont have a real place or family nearby, Hightower is always the guy who cares, and tries to make everyone feel involved.”
Being a flight engineer has given Hightower the ability to fly all over the U.S., from border to border. He has flown from North Dakota to Louisiana, Utah, Kansas and even to the firing range at Canadian Forces Base Shilo, Manitoba, Canada.
“I’m very grateful for all of the training and opportunities that are and have been provided to me; there’s no other job I would rather be doing,” said Hightower.