RAAF Roulettes arrive at Amberley
RAAF Roulettes arrive at Amberley Gary Worrall

WATCH: Precision flyers make Amberley stopover

LOOPING, diving, swooping and swerving, the RAAF Roulettes are a popular fixture at events and air shows around Australia, thrilling crowds with displays of precision flying.

Working just metres apart, and sometimes much closer, the Roulettes appear to think, and even breathe, in unison.

Which is not that far from the truth.

The QT was given a brief insight into the RAAF's precision aerobatic team, as the pilots made a stopover on a flight north to the Townsville Airshow.

Under the command of Squadron Leader Dan Kehoe, the six Roulettes regularly perform 'formation display aerobatics', thrilling audiences with their "wingtip to wingtip" efforts.

"We are the only team who do this in the Australian military," Sqn Ldr Kehoe said.

"There are no simulators, so our pre-briefings are very thorough."

Roulettes Flt Lts Andrew Robinson and Des Hales with Sqn Ldr Dan Kehoe (centre) in fron of their PC-9/A aircraft.
Roulettes Flt Lts Andrew Robinson and Des Hales with Sqn Ldr Dan Kehoe (centre) in fron of their PC-9/A aircraft. Gary Worrall

In fact, there are virtually no pilot aids, perhaps not surprising given the Pilatus PC-9/A will soon celebrate 30 years service for the RAAF.

More realistically, the PC-9s are used to train pilots and instructors, so they lack the sophistication of newer models.

But what they do have is a 950horsepower turboprop engine, providing a ground speed of close to 600km/h, providing a stable platform for display flying.

Sqn Ldr Kehoe said the Roulettes show was visually appealing, but also provided the pilots with a challenge.

"We keep within our capabilities," he said.

RAAF Roulettes arrive at Amberley
RAAF Roulettes arrive at Amberley Gary Worrall

Without a simulator training system, the Roulettes earn their skills the old-fashioned way, in the sky.

"We do about 40 hours of flying to get to display standard, all our pilots are experienced in low level aerobatics."

Such is the level of trust, Flt Lt Andrew Robinson, or Roulette 6 as he is known during shows, said he does not even look at the other aircraft in formation.

"I focus on Dan's aircraft, even though there is another aeroplane between us, I just ignore him, and take my cues from Roulette 1," Flt Lt Robinson said.

"There is minimal talking, I make all the calls when we are airborne, except for Roulette 5 when we are doing the synchronised pair routine," Sqn Ldr Kehoe said.

"I fly the show, the others all follow my lead."

RAAF Roulettes arrive at Amberley
RAAF Roulettes arrive at Amberley Gary Worrall

To be selected as a Roulette, pilots must not only have operational flight experience with a squadron, they must also be a qualified instructor.

"We teach the teachers, that is our day job at Central Flying School, our work with the Roulettes is over and above what we do."

Admitting the work is tiring and physically demanding, Flt Lt Robinson said it was still "fun".

"I do miss the fun of flying Roulettes when we are back in our day job.

"I haven't found the 'lifespan' yet."


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