In the documentary, Secret Life of the Long Haul Flight (2017), we get a look at a long haul Qantas flight from London to Sydney.

One of the scenes shows the flight deck with three pilots (at least their epaulettes have chevrons on them). What is the third pilot in the middle doing? Just hanging out? If he's on rest, shouldn't he be in the rest quarters and not on deck?

screenshot enter image description here

  • $\begingroup$ I was just watching this yesterday and wondering free same thing. My assumption is it's just a third pilot. There are restrictions as to how long a pilot can be in command of an aircraft, so they must get some rest. In this case the third pilot is just with the others during certain moments of the flight. Alternatively it could be a pilot under training. $\endgroup$
    – TayE
    Jun 17, 2017 at 7:33
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    $\begingroup$ In the first photo, the 3rd pilot is holding an approach or departure chart. Standard ops for all pilots to be in the cockpit for these phases. $\endgroup$
    – Simon
    Jun 17, 2017 at 11:19
  • $\begingroup$ @TayE Pilots in training are seated in front and the examiner is seated in the third seat behind. $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    Jun 17, 2017 at 15:51

1 Answer 1


The two stripes on his shoulders indicate he is a Second Officer. They are fully qualified pilots but only act as cruise relief pilots on long flights. New Qantas pilots are initially employed as a Second Officer.

It is standard practice to have all pilots in the cockpit for takeoff and landing. Their role in these periods is pretty much to just keep an eye on everything in case the other two miss something. Some time after the aircraft reaches cruising altitude one of the pilots will start their break and the second officer will take over.

  • $\begingroup$ On. 24hr long haul flight, wouldn't there be an entire replacement crew: a relief captain and relief copilot? (Four people total including the two in the cockpit). Or can you do with just three total (pilot, copilot, relief pilot). $\endgroup$
    – RoboKaren
    Jun 17, 2017 at 15:58
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    $\begingroup$ It stops in Dubai, so I'm guessing they have a crew change there. $\endgroup$ Jun 17, 2017 at 17:56
  • $\begingroup$ @RoboKaren Jeff is right, they stop at Dubai and will rest there for a day or two before flying to SYD/MEL on a different flight. $\endgroup$
    – Ben
    Jun 17, 2017 at 22:31
  • $\begingroup$ He's a Second Officer, and on-deck for takeoff, or landing. There is no such thing as a '24 hr long haul flight'. The maximum is about 15 hrs, in which case there is a captain, 2 first officers, and 1 (sometimes 2) second officers. They alternate their breaks. During cruise (only), if the captain is on break, there's an F/O and a 2nd officer in the seats. The 2nd officer doesn't generally touch anything - he/she is restricted in what they can do, and just monitors. It's a very boring job until they get to become F/Os!. $\endgroup$
    – Pete855217
    Feb 17, 2018 at 4:38

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