The Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) formation aerobatic display team The Roulettes were the featured guests of the Ballarat Aero Club 50th Anniversary Fly In on November 24th, 2012 in country Victoria, Australia. The Roulettes fly the Pilatus PC-9 advanced two seat turbo-prop trainer and are based at RAAF Sale in East Gippsland (where RAAF fixed wing flying instructors are trained). The pilots who fly the six aircraft of the team perform displays around the country as a secondary task to their flying instructor role. These displays are designed to showcase to the public the flying skills of RAAF pilots and at Ballarat they did this very well! Tight, low and high formation flying was on the cards for the day and was an impressive display!
During an aerobatic display Roulette pilots can reach speeds of up to 590 km/h and experience up to 4.5 G forces. The majority of the current group of pilots have on average 10 to 20 years flying experience with the RAAF, but they are not all ex-fighter pilots as most in the team started their careers flying transports, helicopters and maritime patrol aircraft.
The Roulettes were formed in 1970 and originally flew a jet aircraft, the Aermacchi MB.326 which was then the advanced jet and lead-in fighter trainer of the RAAF (the aircraft was in service from 1968 until replaced by the BAE Hawk 127 in 2000). The Roulettes operated the “Macchi” from 1970 until 1989. I got to see the jet team on a number of occasions as a kid and have really fond memories of those displays (in fact I remember standing on the roof of our house watching them go overhead and also being allowed to sit in the cockpit of one when they landed in Horsham, the country town I lived in at the time). One very memorable moment involving the team occurred in 1988 when they experienced a major air collision during a training flight. Amazingly there were no casualties (click here to see a video of the incident)!
The Pilatus PC-9 came into service with the RAAF in 1987. With the cost of running the jets a major issue, The Roulettes re-equipped with this aircraft in 1989.
In the 1960’s different display teams were operated by the RAAF with the first known as the The Red Sales (only operated in 1962) flying the De Havilland Vampire T.33 jet trainer and then The Telstars (1963-1968) also flying the Vampire jet trainer until 1968 when they briefly converted to the “Macchi“. The Telstars were disbanded in 1968 due to an RAAF decision to reduce display flying – a decision luckily overturned just two years later!
The PC-9 is starting to get to the end of its career. It would be great to see the Hawk 127 jet be used for aerobatic displays, but this will more likely be taken over by the successor to the PC-9 which may possibly be the Pilatus PC-21 (the next generation training aircraft)? Time will tell, but what ever happens we will still get to enjoy those famous displays and that’s the main thing!