THE FAMOUS RAAF Roulettes aerobatic squadron arrived in Mildura this week to carry out training in the region ahead of their exhibition displays scheduled to resume next year.
And there was a large crowd on the perimeter of the Mildura Airport to watch the squadron fly in.
The Roulettes are celebrating 50 years of operation and chose Mildura because it was within Victoria and also because of the standard of the airport’s runways and proximity to wide open areas where they could safely train.
Roulette 7 Flight Lieutenant Aimee Heal said that seven aircraft had flown in on Monday, one of which she piloted from the East Sale RAAF base in Gippsland.
“This week while we are in Mildura we are teaching two new Roulettes – we have outgoing Roulette 2 and Roulette 4 and the new Roulettes will replace these pilots and be ready to take part in the 2021 season,” Flt. Lt. Heal said.
“We nominated Mildura because they needed to stay in Victoria and it provides the perfect location with big runways and plenty of open space for training.”
At just 29, Flt. Lt Heal has some impressive flying under her wings.
“I finished school and joined the Royal Australian Air Force and attended the Australian Defence Force Academy in Canberra, where I undertook a degree for three years and then I went and did my pilot training course,” she said. “I completed my training in 2013, and started flying twin engine King Air aircraft and also the KC-30 -Airbus A330 – refuelling tanker.
“At the start of this year, I was posted to RAAF Base Sale to the Roulette 7 position and I learned to fly aerobatics in the PC-21.”
Flt. Lt. Heal said the air force had many female officers in pilot training. “We have a lot of young ladies coming through pilot training at the moment, which is super-exciting. One of the really awesome things about the Roulettes and the PC-21 which is what we fly, is that it is the same aircraft which we use to teach new pilots in the air force,” she said.
Flt. Lt. Heal describes the PC-21 as a flying sports car.
“The PC-21 is an upgrade from the PC-9, which is what we used to have and it is powered by a 1600 horsepower engine which drives the propeller. The aircraft is capable of flying at up to 370 knots, which is about 685 kilometres an hour.
“In certain areas we can fly as low as 150 feet and up to 25,000 – a huge envelope to manoeuvre.”
When they are performing the aerobatic manoeuvres, the Roulette pilots wear special flying suits to help offset the effects of the g-forces they encounter.
“We wear quite a lot of kit when we go flying,” Flt. Lt. Heal said. “One piece we wear is the ‘g-suit’, which is another pair of pants that you put on over the top of your normal flying suit.
“That suit has air bladders and it plugs into the aircraft and as you pull g-forces it inflates with air. That is designed to be hard against your muscles so you can tense your muscles underneath that and it also serves to maintain the blood flow to your head, so that you don’t blackout and ensures your cognitive functions are maintained during those high speed manoeuvres.
“In addition to that, we also wear a preservation vest, which has emergency equipment in it, including a radio, flares and it also serves as a life vest in the event that we end up in water after an ejection it would inflate. In the ejection seat there is also a life raft and our helmet has the oxygen mask and intercoms and visors – so quite an extensive range of gear is on board.”
The RAAF also sent a search and rescue helicopter to accompany the Roulettes on their trip to Mildura.
“Search and rescue accompany us wherever we go – Roulette operations are inherently risky – being as close as three metres from one another. And so as part of our risk management associated with that we do a lot of practice – a lot of work up, but we also have other factors in place, such as the search and rescue chopper on hand,” she said.