SHE used to fly an air-to-air refuelling Airbus, now zips around in one of the world’s most advanced pilot training aircraft, and was pleased to land in Portland on Wednesday.
Flight Lieutenant Aimee Heal, 29, from the Royal Australian Air Force flew into Portland Airport for the day with her colleagues from the RAAF Roulettes to train two new members of the team, flying mainly north-west of Portland.
The two-seater PC21s the Roulettes fly are a gleaming, compact and impressive single-engine turboprop designed to train military pilots before they take on jet training.
That’s a job Lieutenant Heal and her colleagues do day-to-day.
They also are also usually sent to 20 to 30 public events a year as part of a seven-member team, performing aerobatics and providing an excellent promotional tool for the RAAF.
Glenelg Shire residents received a small taste of the tricks the Roulettes can get up to on Wednesday, releasing smoke patterns as they flew in formation and performing some impressive moves.
Like most things this year, dozens of their usual events were called off, but that hasn’t dampened Lieutenant Heal’s enthusiasm for her job.
“It’s an awesome aircraft to fly: it can fly at 370 knots or 685km/h and up to 6G, or six times the force of gravity,” she said.
The plane can put a pilot’s body under so much pressure that they must wear a “g suit” over their clothing, which pumps air into bladders on it while on board.
The suit puts pressure on the lower extremities of a pilot’s body so the critical oxygen-rich blood remains in their head, allowing them to stay focused rather than passing out.
“You get conditioned to be able to do that,” she said.
While planes can get close when refuelling from A330 Airbus, Roulettes may fly within 3m of each other at high speeds in an exhilarating but controlled flight pattern.
“We have standard manoeuvres such as loops and barrel rolls.”
Lieutenant Heal grew up in Bundaberg, Queensland, and her father took her to a local aero club not unlike Portland’s while she was still in high school.
“I went for my first flight and I was hooked,” she said.
She was flying at 16 years old and joined the RAAF after finishing high school, completing a Bachelor of Science at the Australian Defence Force Academy before she started a pilots’ course.
Graduating from flight training in June 2013, 5½ years after she joined the RAAF, Lieutenant Heal went on help provide humanitarian relief exercise in Vanuatu, joined military exercises in Australia and internationally and served in Operation OKRA which fought Daesh in Syria and Iraq.
“It is an awesome job,” she said.
She urged people interested in a career with the RAAF to investigate what they need to study and take one step at a time to work towards that goal.
For her, having a maths and science background, particularly physics, felt important.
Having flying skills before you leave school isn’t essential, she added.
Pilots can even be afraid of heights, or have been the kid that would get car sick on windy roads, she laughed.
“There’s no limit in ability – if you want to do it you can do it,” she added.
The Roulettes and their support rescue helicopter, which is required to travel with them because of the PC21s include ejector seats, flew in from Mildura on Wednesday before travelling on to Avalon and then returning to Mildura.
They are usually based in Sale east of Melbourne. To apply for a Roulettes display go to airforce.gov.au/displays/roulettes