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A look at 100 years of the ADF’s Central Flying School

written by Tony Moclair | July 5, 2018

This week’s Throwback Thursday article is from the April 2013 edition of Australian Aviation, where Tony Moclair looked at 100 years of the Australian Defence Force’s Central Flying School at RAAF East Sale.

Roulettes performing.
Roulettes performing.

On March 8 2013 the Central Flying School (CFS) at RAAF East Sale hosted a unit reunion and flying display in the first of a two-part celebration of the unit’s 100th anniversary.

It was a relatively low key commemoration that marked the formation of the unit, with more elaborate celebrations planned for 2014 when CFS will mark 100 years of military aviation in Australia.

The day’s flying activities consisted of solo and group displays by resident Roulettes (as always, flown by CFS instructors) and fly-ins by a number of aircraft once operated by the CFS including the RAAF Museum’s CT–4A and Winjeel, Daryl Hill’s Adelaide-based Avro Cadet and Judy Pay’s Vampire.

Helping to celebrate the centenary of the foundation of the CFS was Chief of Air Force Air Marshal Geoff Brown, who was guest of honour at a formal dinner attended by 300 former and current CFS personnel. In congratulating the School on its centenary, Brown noted the centenary was “a magnificent milestone that we can all be justifiably proud to celebrate. Many Air Force personnel, past and present, have contributed to the proud tradition and high standards of CFS, which I am confident will prevail into our future.”

The origins of the CFS

Though the festivities took place at East Sale, the cradle of Australian military aviation and birthplace of the CFS is more than 250km west at Point Cook, Victoria which witnessed the establishment of an air arm that is now the second oldest in the world.

The site was chosen by Australia’s first military pilot, Henry Petre, after alternative locations at Duntroon, Langwarren, Cribb Point, Western Point and Altona had been rejected. Petre deemed Point Cook suitable as it was close to Army Headquarters in Melbourne, was flat and afforded both sea and land access.


Throughout 1913, aircraft were assembled and hangars, tents and buildings were erected. In March 1914, five years after Prime Minister Alfred Deakin and Minister for Defence George Pearce had initiated Australia’s acquisition of military air power, the first flight of a military aircraft took place when Lieutenant E.A. Harrison ascended over the primitive base in a Bristol Boxkite.

That year also saw the first military aviation training course conducted followed by a sharp increase in the output of pilots necessitated by Australia’s participation in WW1.

After the armistice, CFS was disbanded, subsumed into 1FTS before being reformed at Point Cook in 1940. During WW2 CFS trained 3,600 instructors from various bases around Australia, before in 1947 it found a permanent home in East Sale.

The CFS today


CFS performs three roles for the ADF. It trains instructor pilots, sets and audits flying standards in the RAAF and the rest of the ADF, and trains and sustains the public face of the RAAF – the Roulettes.

Chief Flying Instructor at CFS is Squadron Leader Matt Plenty. He explained the first priority of CFS is to produce ab initio instructors.

“We’re staffed with a dozen line instructors who generate the students. Six of those instructors are the Roulettes. They’re away, on average during a season, every second weekend so when you then incorporate rest periods in between working weekends, and then incorporate the smaller tasks such as pilot refreshers, instructor conversions and refreshers for already qualified instructors who are moving back to flying postings, suddenly the course work is quite heavy. But we manage it well,” Plenty said.

Instructor courses are 15 weeks long, and CFS runs three such courses a year. (Paul Sadler)
Instructor courses are 15 weeks long, and CFS runs three such courses a year. (Paul Sadler)

Future instructors come to CFS from operational squadrons, having been recommended as suitable by their commanding officer, and having accumulated the prerequisite number of flight and command hours.

Plenty outlines what students face at East Sale. “The course is currently 15 weeks long, we run three a year. Upon conclusion, they will have flown 110 hours, either aircraft conversion, solo, or mutual practice, or dual with one of us as instructor either giving a sequence where we teach the sequence to the instructor candidate, then he or she will practice on the mutual with a course buddy.

“Then we do a read-back, which is an assessment ride for that particular sequence. The read-back is the assessment for that component of that instruction they’re doing. Similar to CASA, with their scaling of instructor qualifications, we’ve got our categorisation system.

“They’ll graduate as a D category, which is essentially an on-the-job training licence, they’ll spend six months in a school refining their trade, then they’ll get upgraded to a C category instructor, which is the workhorse of the unit,” Plenty explained. “They can pretty much do everything the unit requires.

“At CFS, you occasionally get a student who struggles so a B category instructor is above average and they do a lot of the remediation with students to do more in depth fault analysis. Then there are a very few who are ‘select’ or A category, who can in theory fix up any student.”

Maintaining the standard

The second role performed by CFS is the maintenance and auditing of flying standards of the ADF, a responsibility it has held since its inception 100 years ago.

CFS Commanding Officer (CO) Wing Commander Colin O’Neil outlines the scope of that function, and how CFS assists the Air Force, Army and Navy in maintaining consistently high levels of airmanship.

“We have a role across the ADF and that’s one of responsibility to Chief of Defence for validation of flying instructor standards in the navy and the army.

“We do that through a system of flying instructor standardistation officers (FISO), many of whom are staff at CFS and have previous operational experience in transport, maritime and fast jets. So the CFS FISOs with those backgrounds examine the flying instructors in the operational squadrons for their role as a flying instructor in the operational training of transport aircraft, for those who fly in 34SQN and on the Hornet and Super Hornet.

Formation of two CT4's and two Pc9's from Central Flying School over East Sale. (CFS)
Two CT-4s and two PC-9s from Central Flying School over East Sale. (Defence)

“Category A assessments are left to the senior executives such as myself or one of the senior FISOs if it were to be a category A for an operational squadron. It’s very rare because it takes a considerable amount of time and involvement in the aircraft type to achieve that kind of level.

“For the other services, that’s left up to the me as CO to assess or review the performance of the Navy’s FISO which is the Chief Pilot Navy, they then assess their own internal instructor. So CFS is involved in ‘standardising the standardiser’ of Navy and similarly for Army. So since 1957 CFS has ‘standardised the standards’ for three branches to ensure the capability of aircrew.”

CFS also finds itself playing a role in the introduction of new capabilities such as the RAAF’s new multi-role tanker, the KC-30A. O’Neil explained the unit would validate instructor standards or initial qualifications of those taught to fly the aircraft, in the case of the KC-30, by Airbus Military as the manufacturer.

As O’Neil explained: “(KC-30 aircrew) came back and practiced their skills to develop their operational technique and instruction technique and CFS’s role was to examine them for award of instructor category.”

The public face

Certainly the most publicly recognisable face of the CFS is the acclaimed RAAF aerobatic team, the Roulettes.
Being a member of this tightly-bonded unit is a highly-sought assignment, but it is open only to volunteers who were, until recently, only CFS instructors. Aerobatic flying in the Roulettes is an extra-curricular activity performed as much as possible outside ‘business hours’ so the instructors’ primary task of external examination and internal training is not compromised.

Roulette pilots come to the team with a minimum of 10 years’ experience at operational squadrons and as instructors. Interestingly, there are no fast jet pilots in the Roulettes at the moment, reflecting the operational demands currently experienced by the Hornet community.

Recently, the Roulettes have accepted junior pilots who have joined the unit without first becoming instructors. Flight Lieutenant Shaun Rajzbaum came to East Sale after an operational tour with 34SQN and is now acting as the team’s secretary. He is known as Roulette 7.

Plenty, an ex-Roulette display pilot himself, describes the path ahead for Rajzbaum before he comes a member of the display team.

“He’ll do an instructor’s course next year, do a tour in one of the schools and then the quickest route from there would be from one of those schools to be a CFS instructor. Three years from now, and then on arrival at the unit, we have to fly two aircraft types and get a whole bunch of flying qualifications not normally taught in the schools,” Plenty described.

“So let’s say Shaun flew the PC-9/A at 2FTS as an instructor and got posted straight back here, he’d teach at least one of the courses here before he converted to the CT-4 as an instructor. He’d teach his next course on the CT-4 and then do another course after that mixing and matching between PC-9/A and CT-4 to consolidate on the second type which takes a year.

“In that period he’ll also be doing some more advanced training on the PC-9/A to pick up the skill-sets of formation aerobatics to then be eligible to be considered for the team. Sometime in the second year, he then would be able to move into the team on selection. It’s an application process internal to the unit, so on selection he would do a work-up course of about 35 hours of formation aerobatics. Then he’d move into a position in the team.”

The Roulettes remain a popular attraction everywhere they perform, seen here at Williamtown. (Seth Jaworski)
The Roulettes remain a popular attraction everywhere they perform, seen here at Williamtown. (Seth Jaworski)

With the team performing over two seasons a year, both approximately six months long, the team imposes an additional logistical demand on CFS. According to O’Neil, the team’s administrative ‘train’ is considerable and generates much activity ahead of appearances such as the Avalon Airshow. Long-range scheduling is handled by Air Force Headquarters with budget and operational considerations dictating that the majority of the team’s appearances take place in Australia’s southeast.

For O’Neil, overseeing the Roulettes’ activities brings another dimension to his role as Commanding Officer of CFS.

“It’s very much a voluntary position but does carry a measure of prestige. Being in the team, you are selected and assessed as being suitable. There are several elements – there’s flying skill, and the public image of the team. It involves a significant amount of personal devotion to achieve the flying skill, to be able to put the time needed to achieve Routlette activities as well as regular squadron work.

“Many of the Roulettes, being the B Flight here at CFS, are external examiners as well as performing some of the internal training for upgrades – the development towards being a Roulette, towards recategorisation of instructors coming back into flying school or CFS from a non-flying role.

“It’s very much embedded in the same guys who do the Roulettes activities on the weekend out of hours, early start, but on the other hand, there’s great enjoyment that each member gets from performing that role – the pure flying enjoyment of it as well. But that level of effort has an associated result of fatigue that needs to be managed.”

VIDEO: A look at the Roulettes in action from the RAAF’s YouTube channel.

Into the next century

CFS rightly prides itself on its adherence to exacting standards of instruction necessary to ensure its next generation of pilots is adequately trained.

While the search for a replacement aircraft is underway (under AIR 5428, fixed-wing pilot training system for the ADF), the CFS will continue to use the dependable PC-9/A to instruct the instructors and, when adorned with the distinctive ‘R’, continue to thrill and inspire crowds here and abroad.

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