Navy pilots at the Australian Defence Force’s Basic Flying Training School in Tamworth have been likened to ‘fish out of water’ because they are so far from the sea.
Despite being hundreds of kilometres from the ocean, Navy has sent its pilot trainees and candidates to Tamworth for the past 20 years.
Typically, anywhere between 10-20 Navy students pass through the school each year out of a potential 150 pilot trainees.
Senior Naval Officer at the school, Lieutenant Commander Nicholas Hattersley said when student pilots arrived at the school they took a two-week course to assess their potential to learn in the airborne environment.
“This program is commonly referred to as flight screening,” Lieutenant Commander Hattersley said.
The program culminates with the candidate undertaking a flying test conducted by a senior flying instructor and then sitting a two-day officer selection board.
Competition is fierce because of the limited number of places on course.
“Candidates are generally highly motivated and come from all walks of life,” he said.
“Once successful, a trainee naval pilot will then undertake six weeks of ground school, covering topics such as aerodynamics, meteorology, aircraft systems and navigation.”
Lieutenant Commander Hattersley said the flying training component was about 60 hours of airborne instruction covering general, instrument, night and navigation flying disciplines.
“A major milestone for all students is the awarding of their pin, which signifies they have flown solo in day and night,” Lieutenant Commander Hattersley said.
Once the students finish the course they start the advanced phase of their training at No 2 Flying Training School at RAAF Base Pearce, in Perth.
Lieutenant Commander Hattersley said maintaining a naval identity could be challenging in a tri-service establishment.
“Fortunately there are a few opportunities to share with and educate others, particularly those in the junior services, on some of the finer customs and traditions of the senior service,” he said.
One such opportunity was when the naval contingent hosted a mess dinner which was attended by Chief of Navy Vice Admiral Tim Barrett as well as Commander of the Fleet Air Arm, Commodore Vincenzo Di Pietro and crews from 723, 725 and 816 Squadrons.
“This level of support not only provides motivation for the students but also emphasises the importance Navy places on the men and women undertaking training,” Lieutenant Commander Hattersley said.
As an aviator himself, Vice Admiral Barrett told the naval contingent about the responsibilities ahead of them.
“I do have some thoughts on the legacy you inherit and the environment in which you will be operating," he said.
“Legacy and environment are in fact two sides of the same coin for it is the maritime environment which has always demanded exceptional skill and courage from aviators.
“It is that skill and courage from which we who fly in the Australian Defence Force draw our legacy.
“You have chosen to enter the most challenging profession that exists – the profession of arms.
"Within that profession you have volunteered and been selected for the most demanding and the most satisfying occupation on offer – operational flying.
“When you graduate you will be members of the next generation of men and women who will fly for Australia and defend our home, this island continent, her people and her interests around the world."
There are three Navy qualified flying instructors supplementing a mix of Air Force, Army and contracted instructors.
Navy’s most recent addition the school, Lieutenant David Lacey, joined from 808 Squadron after completing the Flying Instructor Course with the Central Flying School at RAAF Base East Sale, in Victoria.
“I am enjoying the challenge of instructing trainees and flying two or three times a day,” he said.
“As far as instructing goes, it doesn’t get much better than taking a student who knows very little about flying and then sending them solo after 10 flights.
“You can really feel and share their excitement after achieving such a milestone.”