Top-notch aviators’ story told

Published on LEUT Will Singer (author), CPOIS Cameron Martin (photographer)

Location(s): Fleet Air Arm Museum, Nowra, NSW

Topic(s): Publication

Former naval aviators, Jed Hart, left, and Commodore Jack McCaffrie (Ret’d) hold their book ‘Wings of Gold’ in front of a UH-1 Iroquois helicopter at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, HMAS Albatross. (photo: CPOIS Cameron Martin)
Former naval aviators, Jed Hart, left, and Commodore Jack McCaffrie (Ret’d) hold their book ‘Wings of Gold’ in front of a UH-1 Iroquois helicopter at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, HMAS Albatross.

Naval pilots and observers that earn the coveted ‘Wings of Gold’ are considered by many to be the best in the world, especially considering that their runway is located in choppy seas.

‘Wings of Gold’ is the latest Navy publication released by the Sea Power Centre - Australia, and is the story of a group of young Australians who joined the Royal Australian Navy to take up the challenge of flying from an aircraft carrier in the mid-1960s.

Between 1966 to 1968, the Royal Australian Navy recognised that the existing Australian system could not produce the number of aircrew the service needed and sent 49 pilots and observers through the United States Navy (USN) aircrew training programs, primarily in Pensacola, Florida.

Authors Trevor Rieck, Dr Jack McCaffrie and Jed Hart suggest readers ‘strap in’ for an exciting ride as they share the excitement that builds in this unique story.

Incredibly fortunate to be selected to train as naval aviators, these young Navy officers give their all to achieve initial carrier qualifications and ultimately gain their coveted ‘Wings of Gold’.

Dr McCaffrie said that their story is unique because unlike those who went before them and those who followed, they were sent to the USA to undertake their flying training with the United States Navy - an unusual chapter in the story of the Royal Australian Navy.

“This book follows the young men’s initial and sometimes almost accidental encounters with the Navy recruiting office, to their arrival as fully-fledged naval aviators at the Naval Air Station Nowra, NSW, ready to join their first squadrons,” Dr McCaffrie said.

Mr Hart said that the story of Australian naval aviators who trained with the United States Navy is a mix of narrative and often hilarious personal anecdotes.

“The book takes you along for the ride with the group as we land at the US Naval Air Station Pensacola, meet our host families, and learn to adapt to American culture,” he said.

“Naval Air Station Pensacola was, and is still, a huge training system that turns out thousands of naval aviators each year.

This excellent training equipped all of us well, including those that went on to fly in combat roles during the Vietnam war,” he said.

Mr Trevor Rieck said ‘Wings of Gold’ captured the efforts of the Royal Australian Navy’s Fleet Air Arm to meet the demands of a new generation of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters at a time of great strategic uncertainty in our region.

For purchase enquires, please contact Sea Power Centre - Australia at seapower.centre@defence.gov.au.