Air Training Wing CFS
Royal Australian Air Force
RAAF Roulettes aerobatic team at the 2008 Australian Grand Prix
|Branch||Royal Australian Air Force|
|Type||Aerobatic display team|
|Garrison/HQ||RAAF Central Flying School (CFS)
RAAF Base East Sale, Victoria
|Colors||Red and White|
|Trainer||7 Pilatus PC-9 aircraft|
The Roulettes are the Royal Australian Air Force's formation aerobatic display team. They provide about 150 flying displays a year, in Australia and in friendly countries around the South-east Asian region. The Roulettes form part of the RAAF Central Flying School (CFS) at RAAF Base East Sale, Victoria.
History and organisation
The Central Flying School formed its first official aerobatic team in 1962, the Red Sales, using De Havilland Vampire jet fighters, but lapsed before reforming for a short time as the Telstars in 1962, then as the Telstars again for just two months in 1968, this time flying the Macchi MB-326 jet trainer.
In 1970, the Roulettes were formed to celebrate the RAAF's 50th anniversary, and have been a permanent team ever since. Initially, they were equipped with four Macchis, growing to five aircraft in 1974 and seven in 1981 before cost-cutting saw the team reduced to five again in 1982. Towards the end of the 1980s, the Roulettes flying hours had to be reduced as the MB-326 fleet developed premature metal fatigue problems and a replacement aircraft type was investigated. In 1989, with the new Pilatus PC-9 trainers starting to arrive and MB-326 airframe hours severely limited, the Roulettes flew just a single pair of Macchis. The Roulettes switched over to the new PC-9s in late 1989, and arrived at the composition they have used ever since: six PC-9s plus a spare.
The aircraft are painted in the bold red, white and blue scheme, with a large "R" symbol on the tail. The RAAF has since adopted this scheme (minus the "R") for all its PC-9 trainers, except for the PC-9s at ARDU and FAC,[clarification needed] which allows an aircraft to be swapped into or out of the team to equalise fleet airframe hours by just repainting the tail.
There are seven Roulettes pilots at any given time, and gaining appointment to the team is a rare distinction. All are flying instructors, except number seven, who serves as the commentator and ferry pilot for the spare aircraft.
From time to time, the CO of an RAAF operational squadron recommends a pilot for instructor duties with either the Basic Flying Training School at Tamworth, NSW or at 2 Flying Training School at Pearce, WA. Upon progression through several levels of instructor categorisation, some of these pilots are then selected for duty at the Central Flying School, where they train flying instructors. From the 21 CFS senior instructors, the CFS commanding officer and the Roulette leader then offer selected individuals a chance to try out for the Roulettes. The team is organised in 'seasons' lasting six months; most members serve on the team for three seasons before moving on to other duties.
A pilot begins with three months of intensive formation aerobatic training, starting with relatively simple manoeuvres (such as loops and rolls in echelon or line astern) performed at altitude, and progressing through more complex and demanding ones (such as corkscrews, ripple rolls and rollbacks), close formation line abreast aerobatics (which requires constant fine attention to power and trim settings), and eventually working up to the full six-aircraft display routines. Only when a routine is well-practised at altitude is it brought down in gradual steps to the minimum safe level of 500 feet (150 m). First season pilots fly as Roulettes 2, 3 or 4, while the more experienced pilots fly as Roulettes 5 and 6. Roulette 1 is the team leader, and Roulette 7 flies the spare aircraft, is responsible for public relations, and often provides commentary at flying displays.
The Roulettes have had three accidents over the years:
- In 1983, two Macchis collided during practice near Sale and both pilots were killed;
- In 1988, a mid-air collision saw Roulette 4 eject safely and Roulette 1 perform a gear-up landing; and
- In 2005, another mid-air collision occurred during practice, with one pilot ejecting safely and the other landing his badly damaged aircraft safely.
The Roulettes always fly in formation, except on long transits to interstate airshows where they fly a very loose formation. In poor visibility, they close up to maintain visual contact, only executing a separation drill when visibility drops below two metres.
In February 2011, a RAAF PC-9 suffered an engine fire at RAAF Base Pearce, just north of Perth. The Roulettes were then grounded until an investigation was carried out and they could confirm that the planes were safe to fly. As of 4 March 2011, there were six planes flying at the Avalon Airshow.
The PC-9 is regarded as an easy aircraft to fly – it has ample power and excellent manoeuvrability – but a difficult one for precise formation flying, because it needs large trim adjustments to compensate for power and airspeed changes, and its low wing loading makes it highly responsive to turbulence. In the words of one Roulette, "it's not really a finesse machine". Despite the entry of a third training aircraft type to supplement the PAC CT/4 and the PC-9, the BAE Hawk lead-in fighter, there are no current plans to switch the Roulettes' equipment.
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