Flight Engineer Greg Day sits between Capt. Frank Moss (L) and First Officer Jeff
Skiles (R), where he controls the engines from the back of the pedestal above.
two former Eastern Air Lines flight atten-
dants, resplendent in their former Eastern
uniforms, give them the safety briefing.
A FLIGHT ENGINEER’S AIRPLANE
Greg Day, our flight engineer, shoehorns
himself into the companionway between
the radio racks. Greg is a big man who more
than fills the jump seat. The DC- 7 doesn’t
have an engineer’s panel, so Greg sits
between Frank and me. The mixtures, carb
heats, gear, flaps, and hydraulic shut-off are
located on the back side of the pedestal
where he can operate them easily.
Greg’s huge fist engulfs the power levers
in-flight, making the four 3,250-hp Wright
3350 turbo-compound engines behave as
one. Mere pilots never touch Greg’s engines.
Pilots ask Greg for every power setting.
Departure time is upon us and Frank calls
to start the no. 3 engine first. No. 3 is the
inboard engine on my side. I yank my window
open and stick my head out ready to count
blades. The massive propeller begins to turn
as Greg taps the primer and squeezes the
starter switches together. As the propeller
makes its complete rotation, I call out “Four”;
after the second rotation I call “Eight.” At the
call of “Twelve” Greg rotates the mag switch
to on, hits the ignition boost switch, and
begins wiggling the throttle. The engine
erupts in a spewing cloud of oil smoke as the
Wright chugs along first on a few cylinders
and then roars to life as all 18 join the chorus.
We move on and do the same for four,
two, and one, and then we sit and warm the
oil while listening to their throaty rumble.
The before takeoff checklist is easy,
as are all the checklists. Greg pretty
much does everything. Pilots only have
to accomplish the tasks that Greg can’t
reach with his long arms…which aren’t
many. I thought a Boeing 727 was a first
officer’s dream job, but this is even better;
all you do is fly. After Greg performs the
run-up, Frank taxies us out onto the
runway for takeoff.
The overcast still glowers overhead, but
the rain has stayed away. I hold the brakes
and command, “Field barometric.” Greg
puts his massive paw over the throttles
and stabilizes the engines at 30 inches of
manifold pressure. There are two sets of
throttles on the pedestal so that the pilot
always has control of one set for aborts and
the flight engineer has control of the other.
EXPERIENCING THE GOLDEN AGE
Once the engines are all singing in unison,
I release the brakes and command, “Max
power.” The airplane gathers itself for
flight and it accelerates down the runway.
Frank calls out, “Airspeed alive, 80 knots,
and V1.” And I say “My yoke.” Then Frank
calls out “V2,” and I haul mightily on the
yoke with both hands as if I am lifting the
plane into the heavens with my own mus-
cle. The incredible stiff controls respond,
and we leave the runway behind, although
it happens so smoothly it’s hard to tell.
“Positive rate, gear up.” Greg snaps the
gear lever up, and we begin the slow ago-
nizing climb-out. Once the gear are in the
wells I call out “METO power” for the first
The cockpit of the DC- 7
is a maze of levers, gauges,
and switches, most of
which I now actually know
how to operate.
Slowly it accelerates to 185 knots, “Climb
power, climb check.”
The slow flat climb takes us to 7,000 feet
as we try, in vain, to top the clouds. In its
day the DC- 7 could cruise at 300 KTAS
burning 500 gallons per hour. This morn-
ing, though, we have no need to rush. The
point of this flight is to allow the 50 passen-
gers in back to experience a bygone era. We
don’t want to shortchange them by getting
to Charlotte too soon.