Demobilisation in 1945 resulted in savage cuts in the RAF especially in the flying branches. Most NCO’s were posted to holding units such as at Snaith in Yorkshire or Eval in Cornwall, awaiting a decision on their future. Right Engineer training had virtually closed down from the beginning of 1945. Many returned to their pre-war lives and some found work flying in civilian aviation. Because of this the trade appears to have escaped most of the post-war emasculation.

On the 5 December 1946 the title/rank of Flight Engineer was declared obsolete. The new ranks also incorporated the branch name and for the Engineer this ranged from Master Engineer (equivalent to Warrant Officer) down through Engineer 1(E1) equivalent to Flight Sergeant, E2 equivalent to Sergeant and E3 and E4 placed on a par with Corporal. E4 was gained after 41/2 years from entry into training, E3 on completion of a conversion course and E2 on being awarded the flying badge. Only the ex-wartime men could go further. Terms of service were also increased from 3 to 5 years.

Training at St Athan continued but on a small scale, once again the emphasis returned to the training of serving Fitters while direct entrants were few and far between.

A certain amount of refresher training was also provided from 1947 to 1951 – 17 weeks on Lincolns and Lancasters for those who had left the Service at the end of the war and who now wished to rejoin for a peace-time flying career.

At this time (1947) a Flight Engineers tour of duty lasted 5 years with opportunities to extend for I. 2 or 3 years before returning to their previous ground trades. Direct Entrants were initially engaged for 8 years but with a chance to go on for another 14, the same as ex-wartime Right Engineers. Commissioning on Branch terms was also re-introduced.

Between 1947 and 1949 direct entrants were welcomed back, initially on a 9 year engagement. In 1949 this was modified and they were allowed to extend to 22 years. In 1948 the Handley-Page Hastings replaced the Halifax and the York. The Hastings carried two pilots and an engineer, a scheme which henceforth would be the standard Transport Command arrangement.

Handley Page Hastings
Original Source:

In 1948 the ‘All Through Programme’ commenced, where all aircrew had their training instruction at one camp. Two ad hoc Engineer courses were quickly arranged at St. Athan drawn from tradesmen who had volunteered. They were to supplement Hastings crews due to a shortage because of the Berlin Airlift (Operation Plainfare). In December 1948 the first ab initio Engineers course under the new scheme arrived at St. Athan with a course length of 64 weeks. The courses were normally about 18 strong with about one third being direct entrants. There was a 6 week gap between each intake.

Boeing B-29 Washington

In 1950, with the Cold War growing progressively worse, Boeing B29 Superfortresses (renamed Washingtons in the RAF), were loaned from the USA as a short term measure and more crews needed to be trained. Two new short courses were established at St. Athan to run alongside existing courses, the first was for Regular Airmen (12 weeks) and the second for National Servicemen (18 weeks). For both courses, the Engineer’s brevet would be awarded at the end of the Operational Conversion Unit Course which immediately followed the training at St Athan.

The Aircrew 1.4 rank system was officially abandoned on the 31 August 1950. Aircrew I now reverted to Flight Sergeant, the remainder as Sergeants; only the Master rank remained. Within a year the Branch had become known by the title of Air Engineer. Throughout the 1950s the state of the branch was grossly unhealthy with the differing utilisations of Air Engineers in each of the Commands. Coastal and Transport Conunands tended to isolate the engineer from the Flight Deck while Bomber Command required the engineer to carry out routine duties but concentrated more on the piloting side.

In 1951 training at St. Athan was halted and by the end of the Korean War the Air Engineer branch was, as it had been at the end of WW2, once agarri- overmanned.

With Bomber Command bringing the Canberra into service Air Engineers would not be required when it replaced the Lincoln. The RAF was however still flying Washingtons, Neptunes (even though only twin-engined it still numbered an Air Engineer among its crew), Shackletons and Hastings all of which still required Air Engineers.

Avro Shackleton MR.2
Copyright: © IWM. Original Source:

Despite the phasing out of the Lincoln the first signs of any surplus did not appear until late 1952: many of the Air Engineers at this stage were absorbed on the Boeing Washingtons as both engineers and co-pilots. From 1954 the Washingtons were returned to the USA and for the first time since WW2 demobilisation there was now a large pool of Air Engineers.

Formal al, initio Air Engineer training having ceased in August 1951, for 9 years the branch generally was allowed to stagnate at the very time the RAF was moving into the Nuclear Age. In both Coastal and Transport Commands, which were so much smaller than Bomber Command, any immediate requirements during this time could be met by training Ground crew Fitters with the training/conversion process fairly easily achieved within the individual Command, primarily at the OCU (operational conversion unit) stage.

The first of the 3 planned new ‘V’ bombers were introduced into service in 1955 with the Vickers Valiant and Bomber Command fully intended to pursue its general policy of I pilot and I engineer. Some Air Engineers already had provisional posting notices to the new aircraft. Three such were Derek Butcher. Stan Piper and Tim Ware.

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