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Most modern airliners require two pilots to operate. Older airliners require a flight crew of three: two pilots plus one flight engineer.

Has there ever been an aircraft where the number of required flight crew members is extraordinarily high, for example five or six?

To clarify the question:

  • "required flight crew member" is the number required by relevant regulations, not the number needed to physically operate the plane. If that number is not met, the plane could not legally have taken off
  • gunners / weapon operators of military aircraft who are not necessary for a safe flight are not included
  • flight attendants are not included
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  • $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of Which airplanes require two (or more) pilot/operators? $\endgroup$ – RoboKaren Jun 18 '17 at 14:49
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    $\begingroup$ @RoboKaren: Not really a duplicate. $\endgroup$ – mins Jun 18 '17 at 15:54
  • $\begingroup$ More of a related as the linked question is for contemporary airliners. $\endgroup$ – RoboKaren Jun 18 '17 at 17:14
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    $\begingroup$ Do you mean flight crew members? Flight attendants are required crew members for many large aircraft operations, and the required number of flight attendants can easily be 5+ in addition to flight crew. $\endgroup$ – J Walters Jun 18 '17 at 19:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Mast -- it's four: two pilots, a F/E, and a nav (at least for a functional check flight) -- doubt it's changed since the 90s $\endgroup$ – UnrecognizedFallingObject Jun 20 '17 at 0:52
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In addition to the An-225, a few historic examples at five, a couple at six, and one (possibly) at seven.

I don't know how firmly worded regulations were at the time so I can't speak as to whether all of them were absolutely required to be in place for takeoff. As neither of the six-crew airliners entered service, the question might be moot for them anyway.

Two prototype airliners with six -

At least one operational airliner had a minimum of five -

  • The Boeing 314 had a flight crew of five - two pilots, a navigator, a radio operator, and a mechanic. However, for the intended long-duration flights, it apparently carried two full crews plus two additional people - a chief engineer and a clerk. Relief crew are probably outside the scope of your question, but it's not clear to me if the two additional crew would have been "required" even for a shorter flight (the engineer maybe, the clerk probably not) - so the answer might be six.

And some military aircraft with five or more -

  • The Zeppelin-Staaken R.VI apparently had a flight crew of seven (commander, pilot, copilot, radio operator, fuel engineer, and two engine mechanics) - I say apparently because that list doesn't seem to mention gunners. There may have been some duplication of roles.

  • The Linke-Hofmann R.I (did not enter service) appears to have had a flight crew of six, but the details are sketchy.

  • I think the basic "flying" crew of the B-36 was five, after taking out everyone with a combat duty - two pilots, one engineers, radio operator & navigator; see this list - but it's hard to break out the exact roles and determine who was there for relief purposes. The XC-99 cargo variant also had a crew of five, which seems consistent with this.

  • The Me 323 transport had a crew of five not counting gunners (two pilots, two flight engineers, radio operator)

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    $\begingroup$ The British "V" bombers had crews of five. Two pilots, an air electronics officer, navigation RADAR officer (doubled up as refueller on the Victor and later on the Vulcan) and navigation plotter. There were two additional stations for relief pilots and crew chiefs and long range "ranger" flights. I believe that the B52 crew is similarly made up. $\endgroup$ – Simon Jun 18 '17 at 16:20
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    $\begingroup$ @DanHulme: Two pilots. One engineer. One radio operator. One navigator. Compare e.g. Saunders-Roe Princess. $\endgroup$ – DevSolar Jun 19 '17 at 14:32
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    $\begingroup$ Oh, "radio operator & navigator" isn't one position. This is why we need the Oxford comma! :-) $\endgroup$ – Dan Hulme Jun 19 '17 at 14:47
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    $\begingroup$ @mickburkejnr - well, that could lead to some awkward conversations. "Well, lads, it looks like we're going down. Now, as there's only two ejector seats for the pilots, I'm afraid you lot will have to stay in the aircraft, or use the ridiculously dangerous and very likely fatal manual bail-out procedure. Now, who's for the 'stay in the plane without a pilot' option and who's for the 'probably fatal procedure'? Come on, now, don't just sit there sitting on your hands with murderous looks in your eyes and...oh. Oh, dear. Now, let's not do anything hasty here, lads, nothing unfortunate..." :-) $\endgroup$ – Bob Jarvis - Reinstate Monica Jun 19 '17 at 16:19
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    $\begingroup$ @Pavel it seems the "flight clerk" had the duties of a ship's purser - responsible for paperwork, some cargo (eg mail), and generally dealing with passengers; this presumably explains why the term "purser" is now used for the senior steward. This article from 1938 gives an idea of the role - and, interestingly, clearly differentiates them from the "steward". $\endgroup$ – Andrew Jun 20 '17 at 19:45
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The Antonov An-225 Mriya requires a crew of six- you have the pilot, copilot, 2 flight engineers, navigator and a communications specialist/radio operator.

An-225 Cockpit

An-225 cockpit; image from sas1946.com

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    $\begingroup$ Seems like some older An-124 also require six crew. $\endgroup$ – Thunderstrike Jun 18 '17 at 18:08
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    $\begingroup$ The smiley-face upholstery is...disturbing...and is that red book a Bible? (Let us read from the Book of Aircraft, chapter 12, verses 7 through 22: And then St. Orville spake, saying: "Oh, Lord, bless this, thy AN-225, and keep it flying, in thy mercy". And the Lord did bless it. And then St. Orville said: "First shalt thou lower the flaps. Then shalt thou advance the throttles to 3. Three shall be the number thou shalt advance the throttles to, and the number thou shalt advance the throttles to is 3. Thou shalt not advance them to 4, nor to 2, unless thou proceedeth to 3. FIVE IS RIGHT OUT!") $\endgroup$ – Bob Jarvis - Reinstate Monica Jun 19 '17 at 14:55
  • $\begingroup$ @BobJarvis zoom in on the image, I don't think they're faces. Not sure what they are though. They look vaguely shell like, but only if a bit abstracted. The bottom part has a vague resemblance to a B2 with the ragged back wing edge, in that case I'm not sure what the top bits are unless they're supposed to be a cloud of flairs. OTOH a Soviet/Russian design is unlikely to use an image of a USAF aircraft in its styling. An heavily abstracted bird perhaps? $\endgroup$ – Dan Neely Jun 19 '17 at 15:37
  • $\begingroup$ You're right - they're not smiley faces. They appear to be...aliens from Space Invaders! (/*face-smack*/) How could I possibly have gotten that wrong?!?!? :-) $\endgroup$ – Bob Jarvis - Reinstate Monica Jun 19 '17 at 16:13
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While only one was built, plus two copies which were built in Italy, the Dornier DO-X with twelve engines, is listed as having a flight crew of 10 to 14 during normal operation. Twelve of the relatively high maintenance engines of that era must have been a handful to keep operational during flights.

Dornier DO-X

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    $\begingroup$ While the Do-X certainly needed a big crew, I'm afraid the number of 14 includes stewards as well. $\endgroup$ – Peter Kämpf Jun 21 '17 at 22:06
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HP-1500 had 9 crew max but could have 8

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    $\begingroup$ Do you have any source for that? $\endgroup$ – vasin1987 Jun 19 '17 at 4:07
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    $\begingroup$ Based on the armament listed in the Wikipedia article, it seems likely that the "eight or nine" includes three gunners and a bombardier. $\endgroup$ – Mark Jun 19 '17 at 4:20

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