Becoming a C-130 Hercules flight engineer or loadmaster in the Delaware Air National Guard

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Matwey
  • tt
This article explores the qualifications, selection process and training for the flight engineer and loadmaster, two of the four air crew positions of the C-130 Hercules aircraft flown by the Delaware Air National Guard's 166th Airlift Wing at the New Castle ANG Base, Del.

Flight engineers and loadmasters are both enlisted positions and require completion of a high school diploma or the equivalent. People without prior military service must be younger than 40 years old when they enlist. There are slightly different requirements for people with prior military service and these are addressed on an individual basis by the base recruiting office.

A minimum score of 57 on the Airman Qualifying Examination, the general portion of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, is required to become a FE or a loadmaster. The ASVAB is administered to all prior and non-prior service applicants for enlistment into the U.S. military using four composite scores that are predictive of training success in military occupations.

Potential new hires are requested to meet with FE or loadmaster section personnel to discuss the crew role and to understand the level of commitment necessary for regular flying to maintain proficiency and balance the workload.

Physical requirements for FEs and loadmasters require passing a Class 3 flight physical for aircrew duty, with normal color vision and depth perception.

The standard training path of either a FE or a loadmaster requires the one-and-a-half week Aircrew Fundamentals Course at Lackland AFB.

Both positions require completing three survival training courses (emergency parachute, water and combat survival) at Pensacola, Fl., and Fairchild AFB, Wash., which last about a month total.

Each path then branches off into a specific FE or loadmaster basic course at Lackland AFB, Texas, then about five-months for initial/mission qualification training (IQT/MQT) for each position at the 189th AW, Arkansas ANG, located at Little Rock AFB, Ark., which includes learning on C-130 simulators and flying tactical missions.

Specific flight engineer requirements

"A flight engineer is the link between the aircraft and the pilot," said Senior Master Sgt. Mike Murphy, who shares the chief flight engineer role and is a former active duty crew chief from maintenance units at Charleston AFB, S.C., and Pope AFB, N.C.

Each aircraft has its own unique and often complicated aircraft system that must be operated, monitored and maintained before, after and during completion of a mission. The FE ensures a smooth takeoff and landing with a safe flight in between. The ANG career page states that a FE will know these systems "like the back of your hand," assisting pilots as necessary during flight.

The Air Force Career Field Education and Training Plan requires an FE to have either a 5- or 7-level in their Air Force Specialty Code in one of eight maintenance career field ladders, or have a civilian aviation background and possess a FAA FE certificate with a jet or turboprop rating or other valid FAA license or technician certification.

Murphy estimates that around 95 percent of Delaware ANG FEs started in the maintenance field, with about a third coming from the 166th Maintenance Group or 166th Maintenance Squadron. One current unit FE is a former active duty Air Force C-5 FE, and a few are former Navy P-3 Orion FEs.

After a FE candidate completes the Aircrew Fundamentals Course, next comes about six weeks at the Basic Flight Engineer Course, the three survival training courses, and finally about five months at C130H Flight Engineer IQT/MQT at the 189th AW, Arkansas ANG, Little Rock AFB.

When formal training ends, 90 days of "seasoning training" at home station in New Castle begins to gain local flying experience.

"For FEs we want a certain level of maturity, people who make the right decisions on- and off-duty," said Murphy, underscoring their role ensuring the safety of the aircrew and passengers aboard an expensive aircraft and missions out of the country where they interact with many nationalities.

"I think being a FE is one of the best positions in the ANG," said Murphy. "It is very rewarding. You can go with your crew anywhere in the world, have an impact on current events, and see your impact on those events. It is one of the few positions we have that requires someone to be prepared to pack their suitcase and be gone tomorrow. So, it is not a regular '8-to-5' job."

Specific loadmaster requirements

The loadmaster role requires logistics expertise to fulfill the mission and ensure the safety of the people, cargo and aircraft. Duties include pre-flight and post-flight of aircraft and aircraft systems, cargo/passenger load placements and documentation, creating load plans, supervising loading and offloading activities, computing aircraft weight and balance, and other mission-specific qualification duties to include the airdrop of personnel and equipment/cargo.

Loadmasters can come from any career field, making more Airmen eligible for the position. The training path is about a year long.

After a loadmaster candidate completes the Aircrew Fundamentals Course, next comes about six weeks at the Basic Loadmaster Course at Lackland AFB, Texas, the three survival training schools, and then about four-and-a-half months at the C-130H Loadmaster IQT/MQT course at the 189th AW, Arkansas ANG, at Little Rock AFB.

When formal training ends, 90 days of "seasoning training" at home station in New Castle begins to gain local flying experience, the same regimen followed by all aircrew.

"Just like the other air crew positions, the loadmaster position requires significant dedication and commitment to maintain one's air crew qualification, currency and proficiency," said Chief Master Sgt. Jeffrey Springsteen, the chief loadmaster in the 142nd Airlift Squadron.

For example, he said loadmasters must complete multiple airdrop events on a recurring basis.

"We have traditional members who come out two, three or even four times a month" in- between regular weekend drills, said Springsteen. "There is a lot more training required monthly and quarterly for aviation positions," he said, citing 30-some CBTs and 50 currency requirements such as intelligence, tactics and NVG refresher training. "So it takes a little more effort when your office is in the air.

"When we talk with new potential recruits, we have them talk with both our experienced crew members along with some of our newest members to give them the freshest perspective."

Springsteen said many people become loadmasters because they are motivated by having opportunities to fly and travel as air crew, and because there is an attraction to the college money available. He also said that people want to learn a job and find good employment, mentioning the pay and benefits available to traditional members.

"We instill in everyone, from the new recruit forward, that we are looking for continuous process improvement in the section,"  said Springsteen, advising how younger and experienced crews work together to learn, analyze their performance and devise better ways of doing the mission.

"I always tell our people that we are three things:  a Guardsman, an Airman in the Air Force, and a loadmaster," he said, mentioning their community ties, their state and federal missions, and their specific loadmaster duties.

He also emphasized that their approach to section members is close and supportive. "The Air Force calls it 'Wingman,' and here we call it 'family,' and we are very proud of that," said Springsteen.

To start your Air Guard aviation journey, call the Delaware ANG Recruiters at (302) 323-3444, visit the Air National Guard Recruiting web site,, or visit the 166th Airlift Wing web site,

Editor's note: This is the third article in the series, "How to become an aviator in the Delaware National Guard." The first article, "Fly with the Delaware National Guard," covered the units, aircraft and air crew positions available in the Delaware Air and Army National Guard. The second article, "Becoming a pilot or combat systems officer in the Delaware Air National Guard," explored the qualifications, selection process and training for the pilot and CSO (formerly called a navigator), two of the four air crew positions of the C-130H model transport aircraft flown by the Delaware ANG's 166th Airlift Wing. The series is posted on the 166th Airlift Wing Air Force Public Web site,