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These days, most (all?) airliners require 2 pilots at any given time. However, until the 1980s, many airliners required more crew on the flight deck than this (5 for the Lockheed Constellation and 3 for the 747 models). The AN-225 (first flight 1988) is unique in having 6 flight crew members (related).

I'm interested in knowing if there are any modern aircraft (airliners and other types) that require 3 or more flight deck crew. For the sake of the question, let's limit "modern" aircraft to those which first flew after the year 2000. Spacecraft and spaceplanes don't count - atmospheric vehicles only. Sometimes there are more than 2 pilots on board for long-haul flights, but I'm interested in the minimum flight crew for the most basic flight.

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  • $\begingroup$ I guess I'm asking about "certification" - what I'm interested in is the minimal amount of pilots required for the simplest flight. I'll try and edit the question to make it more clear $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 15, 2021 at 23:33
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    $\begingroup$ The terminology used in the Type Certificate Data Sheet is "Minimum Flight Crew". Example for the Boeing 747: "Minimum Flight Crew: Three (3): Persons (Pilot, Co-pilot, and flight Engineer)" $\endgroup$
    – Bianfable
    Commented Nov 16, 2021 at 9:16
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    $\begingroup$ You write "airliner" in the example, but "aircraft" in the question. So, is it only about civilian airliners, or can we count military aircraft as well (which might have a radar/weapons/EW equipment operator)? $\endgroup$
    – vsz
    Commented Nov 16, 2021 at 18:05
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    $\begingroup$ The Stratolaunch needs three crew and flew once for the first time in 2019, but it's not an airliner. Agreed we need to know what you're asking about - airliners or aircraft? Does the TTS-IS count? $\endgroup$
    – J...
    Commented Nov 16, 2021 at 18:52
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    $\begingroup$ There was like an Outer Limits episode with a trans-atlantic flight arriving westbound and failing to make contact with any of the usual radio points; Gander, Moncton, Halifax. Spoiler, they'd gone back in time and on descending saw dinosaurs in tropical jungles. Anyhow, there was a whole cast of characters in the cockpit: Captain, First Officer, Engineer, Radio Operator, Navigator, maybe a standby guy in a jumpseat, and of course a flight attendant coming and going with reports from panicked passengers (never themselves on screen). A whole stageplay just in an airplane cockpit. $\endgroup$
    – CCTO
    Commented Nov 16, 2021 at 20:44

2 Answers 2

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I don't think there is any aircraft designed since 2000 which requires a flight crew of more than two people.

It's hard to prove a negative, but historically only larger aircraft required more than two crew members in the cockpit. So I went through the Wikipedia articles of Airbus, Boeing, Embraer, Antonov, UAC (Ilyushin, Irkut, etc.) and Comac and looked for mid- to long-range aircraft that first flew since 2000:

Aircraft Model First Flight Crew
Airbus A380 2005 2
Airbus A350 2015 2
Airbus A310 MRTT 2003 3 or 4
Airbus A400M 2009 3 or 4
Antonov An-148 2004 2
Boeing 787 2009 2
Boeing KC-767 2005 3
Boeing P-8 2009 2 to 7
Comac C919 2017 2
Embraer C-390 2015 2
Ilyushin Il-112 2019 2
Ilyushin Il-276 2023 (planned) 3
Irkut MC-21 2017 2

The crew number is taken from the respective Wikipedia articles (where available). There are 4 aircraft that list more than two crew members here:

  • Airbus A310 MRTT: Wikipedia says

    Crew: Three (hose and drogue) or four (flying boom) flight crew (two pilots and other flight crew)

    and I found this article saying

    The multi-role tanker transport is operated by a flight crew of three for all missions relating to Air-to-Air Refuelling (AAR): two pilots and the AAR operator. The AAR operator station is located in the cockpit just behind the captain. The two pilots have direct access to the majority of the information and controls concerning the AAR operational and safety aspects.

    So, technically, the AAR operator(s) would count as crew in the cockpit. However, you asked for "the minimum amount of flight deck crew for the most basic flight" and I guess the aircraft can be flown with just the two pilots, if no refueling is performed during the flight.

  • Airbus A400M: Wikipedia says

    Crew: 3 or 4 (2 pilots, 3rd optional, 1 loadmaster)

    so 2 pilots are enough and (even though listed as required crew) I wouldn't count the loadmaster as flight deck crew. I guess an empty A400M would be allowed to fly without a loadmaster on board.

  • Boeing KC-767: Wikipedia says

    Crew: 3: 2 pilots, 1 boom operator

    so this is similar to the A310 MRTT.

  • Ilyushin Il-276: While the Wikpedia article lists the crew as 3, the Ilyushin website on the planned Multi-Purpose Transport Aircraft (MPTA) says

    Crew, persons: 3 (2)

    and when further reading the article, it says

    The flight crew includes three persons: chief pilot, co-pilot, and navigator. The aircraft design envisages installation of an additional seat for the flight engineer. [...] The aircraft design ensures autonomous (without contact with the home airfield) solving of transportation tasks and flight preparations by the efforts of technical and flight crews from 2 to 6 persons.

    This sounds like up to 4 crew members can be in the cockpit, but only 2 are required.

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«pilots» and «flight deck crew» are not synonyms.

«pilots» are subset of «flight deck crew».

There have always been only two pilots flying the aeroplane, PIC and second officer, even in pre-«modern» times, according to your terminology.

Automation and computers rendered flight engineers obsolete.

Advancements in navigation like aviation-grade GNSS, virtual VORs, PBN etc made flight navigator obsolete.

There isn't any post-2000 design that requires minimum flight crew of more than 2.

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  • $\begingroup$ Minimum pilot crew of no more than 2 has been long before 2000. And no, there isn't any post-2000 design that requires minimum flight crew of more than 2. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 16, 2021 at 9:38
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    $\begingroup$ "There isn't any post-2000 design that requires minimum flight crew of more than 2", is it your opinion or do you have some reference? $\endgroup$
    – mins
    Commented Nov 16, 2021 at 15:50
  • $\begingroup$ «is it your opinion or do you have some reference?» - I checked all known non-military airplanes designed after 2000 and didn't find any with flight deck crew requirement of more than two. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 17, 2021 at 13:52

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