A jet-fuelled apprenticeship with the Roulettes

Watching the Roulettes perform smoke-studded, high speed twists and turns as low as 80 metres from the ground is always a crowd pleaser. With pilots experiencing G-forces up to six times the force of gravity while clipping along at nearly 700 kilometres an hour, even a minor mechanical fault can pose a significant risk.

The safety of aircraft and pilots is paramount, and with that in mind, a two-year Aircraft Line Maintenance traineeship at the RAAF Base East Sale is currently seeking its third intake of trainees. Six trainees will be accepted into this exclusive program.

Since the inception of this traineeship in 2018, 12 trainees—all from the Gippsland area—have completed the course and been offered employment with Jet Aviation.

AGA industry partner

The traineeship is delivered by employment and training specialist AGA in partnership with Jet Aviation Defence. Trainees have responsibility for the safety of pilots and planes before take-off as well as inspecting the aircraft when they return to base.

Trainees live and breathe the Pilatus PC-21 aircraft used by the Roulettes and the RAAF Flying Training School. Three Gippsland locals who rose to the challenge have spoken about what it’s like to work with the Roulettes.

Matt Jansen, 22, grew up watching the Roulettes fly over Sale which fuelled his desire to work in the aviation industry.

“I was fresh out of year 12 and wondering what I was going to do. This (traineeship) came up and I figured I’d apply…I thought it might be a job I’d have for a little while, but now it’s looking like I might have a career. PC-21s are a great aeroplane to work on, I love the job.” — Matt Jensen, Aircraft Line Maintenance graduate.

Mr Jansen says another rewarding aspect of the job is accompanying the Roulettes on extended trips. “We don’t fly with them to get there, we’ll drive, or if it’s over a certain distance from Sale we’ll take commercial flights, or if the RAAF have some way of transporting us we’ll take that. Our job is to maintain the planes wherever they are.”

Females encouraged to apply

Far from being a job for the boys, women are encouraged to apply. Kyla Martin, 42, worked as a cleaner at the RAAF Base before taking on the traineeship.

“I wanted a challenge in life. I was a cleaner on the base before I started, I used to get into trouble because I was always out there watching the planes. I’ve got a friend who did the first traineeship and I thought, that’s something I could do. I applied, had an interview and I was one of the lucky ones who go through,” she said.

Adam Hutty, 27, says the job is a great talking point. “Before this I was a bricklayer,” he said. “Now when I say I work at the base with the Roulettes it’s always an interesting conversation to have.”

There are 25 PC-21 aircraft at the base. These aircraft are highly maneuverable, turboprop-powered training aircraft with a dual cockpit. As well as thrilling audiences at air shows and events like the Australian Grand Prix, the aircraft is used  to train Air Force student pilots who will then go on to eventually fly operational aircraft such as the F35 Joint Strike Fighter.

A full check of the plane takes around 40 minutes and includes refuelling and cleaning the canopy (the cover over the cockpit). Trainees also do checks inside the cockpit of switches, oxygen tanks and the five-point harness that straps the pilots into their seats.

AGA Field Officer Craig Binotto says each intake is limited to six trainees, chosen from hundreds of applicants, so being accepted is a privilege.  He expects similar numbers to apply for the current round of traineeships which close in March.

Craig says to be successful, applicants don’t need prior experience but they should have a genuine interest in aviation and the confidence to speak up if a safety issue arises.

“We’re looking for trainees who are not easily intimidated because if they see something that isn’t right from a safety perspective, they’ll be telling a highly trained RAAF pilot to shut down their plane. That can be daunting.” — Craig Binotto, AGA Field Officer.

Craig says locals who are wanting a career that has an element of Top Gun to it and can take them anywhere in the world, should apply.

“This traineeship at RAAF Sale is a big win for locals,” he said. “For a small country town of just over 15,000 people it’s an opportunity you just don’t get elsewhere.”

Kyla summed up the attitude of all the trainees when she said, “my favourite thing is watching the Roulettes; you never get tired of it.”

How to apply

The traineeship includes study units and on the job training, maintenance journals and CASA-approved exams. AGA are currently accepting applications for the next intake of this rewarding traineeship commencing in April 2021. To learn more or apply, visit aga.com.au/current-vacancies and search for Aircraft Line Maintenance Traineeship.