Becoming a RAAF Pilot


I have had the pleasure of mentoring a number of young men in their attempts to become RAAF pilots and I have enjoyed a reasonable level of success over the years. There are a number of attributes that the RAAF look for during the recruiting process and I am often asked what these attributes are and how to improve the chances of success for someone. I have also received requests and pressures to write a blog outlining the list of attributes and give some insight into the process.

Firstly the best advice I can give is to have a backup plan for your life as success in achieving a placement on a pilot course is not guaranteed. Get as much information as you can from your local recruiting office, know what you’re in for, be prepared. Let’s look at the statistics, the RAAF conducts four pilot courses per year with approximately 35 positions. That is 140 positions per year. Some years ago recruiting received approximately 1,500 applications for each course, nowadays it is down to approximately 1,500 applications for the four courses each year. Naturally these figures change markedly from time to time depending on many variables. So you can plainly see that the competition for placement is fierce. The key is to be the most competitive of all the applicants. You also need to realise that the failure rate for pilot course is around 50%, this figure is also very variable and the Defence force has gone to great pains to reduce this with, at times, some modicum of success.

There are two avenues available to an applicant, as a direct entry straight to pilot course or through the Australian Defence Force Academy. Either path is truly rewarding. If you decide on the Academy you will spend three years undergoing a degree course before you receive a position on a pilot course. The advantage of the Academy courses is that if you do not complete the pilot course you still have many other RAAF career paths open to you. The disadvantage of the Academy is that, when compared to a direct entry pilot, the direct entry will have completed their operational conversion course and be a member of a flying squadron just as an Academy graduate is starting pilot training. Academy graduates however, are more likely to progress through the officer ranks than a direct entry subject of course to their performance throughout their career. A direct entry who fails to complete pilot course may still have the opportunity for another career path as well but that may require additional training.

A trainee fighter pilot and instructor in a RAAF Hawk fighter jet at RAAF Base Darwin. ABC News: James Purtill

A trainee fighter pilot and instructor in a RAAF Hawk fighter jet at RAAF Base Darwin. ABC News: James Purtill

Let’s get into what is required. The first attribute you need is to achieve the highest possible education standard that you are able to achieve. This indicates your ability to study along with your dedication to task. Whilst the academics of pilot training is not in line with a masters degree it isn’t easy either. If you are unable to settle in to a rigorous study routine you will not pass the course and the recruiters know this.

Next is motivation, this is measured by your interest in aviation and your knowledge of the RAAF aircraft and the roles that they are capable of performing. Knowing where all the aircraft are based is also a good idea, you will be questioned on this. If you have aviation experience this will also help, I advise people who do not have flying experience to consider gliding. Gliding is much less expensive and the training provided by gliding club instructors is more aligned to military techniques than the powered variety of training. If you can afford powered flying training then go for it. Basically this flying experience will give you some confidence in your ability to operate an aircraft making you more competitive with your application. The recruiters will ask you why you did this training so let them know that you did the training to help with your suitability for a position on a course. You need to realise that this flying experience will only help you a certain way on course and those who have joined a course without flying experience will achieve parity with you on course reasonably quickly. After all the course is designed for someone who has no flying experience at all.

Physical fitness and ability in sports is important to your cause. Eye hand coordination plays a big part of the recruiting process and it will be tested in a special machine. If you are good at table tennis this is a good indicator of eye hand coordination. If you are good at gymnastics, such as trampolining this is an indication of your ability to orientate yourself in three dimensions. Don’t be too concerned if you do not excel at these activities they are just an example, football, basketball, golf and many other sports also give a good grounding for eye hand coordination. You must be physically fit and your aircrew medical will show any shortcomings.

Leadership is an important attribute required of a potential pilot as you will become a commissioned RAAF officer on graduation and this carries a lot of responsibility. Recruiting will look for evidence of your leadership qualities. Leadership qualities are indicated by those who have held positions of responsibility in Clubs for example or having been a school prefect or school captain, head of the debating team and the like.

Personal confidence is a necessary attribute, you must have self confidence in your ability as a person and you must be able to speak with confidence to anyone. Public speaking will give you this confidence, particularly if you get involved in debating or speaking coaching of some sort.

Aptitude for training will be tested during the recruiting process by way of a series of exams and unfortunately there is no real way of preparing for this part of the process. It comes down to you either have it or you don’t. As part of this, if you show promise, you will undergo ‘flight screening’ where your aptitude will be further tested to ensure you have what it takes. Flight screening is designed to test your ability to show improvement in training environments. This process will take around two weeks, you will also be observed on your potential officer qualities by way of dress and bearing and personal conduct. Following flight screening you may be offered a position on a pilot course, if not don’t despair as you may get another chance to apply if the reason for your missing out is not something of a permanent nature.

First PC-21s delivered - CONTACT magazine

PC-21s of 2 FTS in formation. (Photo Contact Magazine)


Having achieved a position on a pilot course be prepared for a very different experience in life. Firstly you will be sent to Officer Training School (OTS) at Point Cook for 17 weeks where you will receive intensive training in General Service Knowledge, Defence Force Law, Customs of the Service, Leadership, Service writing and of course Drill and Ceremonial (marching). These are the main subjects, there are a lot more.

Once OTS is completed you will be sent to No 1 Flying Training School (1FTS), RAAF Base East Sale, Victoria for six months to complete basic flying training. You will fly approximately 65 hours on the Pilatus PC-21 Following 1FTS you will be sent to No 2 Flying Training School (2FTS) at RAAF Base Pearce in Western Australia where you will receive advanced training on the Pilatus PC-21. Here you will complete about 125 hours of flying training before graduation as a RAAF pilot.

RAAF pilot training is like no other training that you will experience. You have to continually self critique your own performance and make the necessary improvements to progress. You must improve at a constant rate otherwise you will fall behind. The course has specific pressure points along the way, mostly progress flight tests with senior instructors but there are others. Naturally there is a lot of academics with associated examinations, some of which have pass marks as high as 80% with emergency exams requiring 100%. On the plus side the camaraderie with your fellow course mates will bond you all together forever. There are a lot of fun times to be had as well so if you are prepared to put in the hard yards and fulfill your dreams you will never look back. There is no feeling in the world like having a very senior RAAF officer pin a set of pilot wings on your chest at your graduation parade in front of your family and friends.

So to summarise, my advice to you would be: if you really want it, go for it.

Good luck 🙂

RAAF unveils new paint scheme for Roulettes aerobatic team – The Aviation Geek Club

A PC-21 of the Roulettes Formation Aerobatic Team based at RAAF Base East Sale Vic. (Photo The Aviation Geek Club)


RAAF McDonnell-Douglas F/A-18A Hornets flying formation during the RAAF Pearce Air Show 2012. Photo: © Keith Anderson.

RAAF McDonnell-Douglas F/A-18A Hornets flying formation during the RAAF Pearce Air Show 2012. Photo: © Keith Anderson.

I have recently been contacted by Mr Taylor Chop Fox who has written a book on his experiences in joining the USAF and becoming a fighter pilot in that system. The link to his book is below or you can email him at to find out more. I would commend reading his book as a means of comparing the processes of becoming a pilot in the RAAF to the process for the USAF. This will certainly expand your knowledge base and give you valuable insight into how air forces gauge their applicants for suitability.

Posted on August 12, 2016 in Phil's Blog Posts

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About the Author

Phil Frawley is a human who was truly born to fly. As a young boy he spent countless hours building model airplanes and dreaming of the day when he would get to control an aircraft. Phil’s hard work, determination and perseverance finally paid off when, after five years as an aircraft technician, he was accepted into the Royal Australian Air Force 92 Pilots Course in July 1974. After a career spanning more than 49 years, mostly as a fighter pilot, he is now retired but still flys the L-39 Albatros taking people on adventure flights. He still holds a Guinness World Record for having been the oldest active fighter pilot of all time, a proud achievement.
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