Carter Fox – Work Experience
0500. It’s cold and dark. Outside it’s raining. In Mordialloc, students are asleep, tucked up in bed. But today for me it’s different. I’m about to leave for work experience. Round two. And it’s only 300km away…
My WEX (work experience) program started in early December last year. A year earlier I’d decided my goal is to become a pilot in the Royal Australian Air Force. Simple really, until you understand the challenges. Or try for work experience as a would-be pilot! The Australian Defence Forces offer a really comprehensive series of WEX programs in all states for all kinds of jobs and trades, far beyond military roles. Access to these is well scheduled, so I wanted to be at the head of the queue to be sure of a place. But due to operational schedules, Air Force opportunities are scarce and often listed late. And pilots weren’t on any lists…
Time was getting tighter, College deadline to nominate our WEX choices was closing. Still nothing. Again I contacted Defence WEX and I was instructed to wait for dates to be released. I patiently waited until March and no dates had been posted. Out of time and out of options. Time for Plan B. I contacted Tristar Aviation at Moorabbin, where I had some of my previous flying lessons. They didn’t really have a WEX program for pilots, but they generously arranged a program in March just a week before WEX forms were due. So early May, I had the great WEX opportunity of Flight Instructor work experience and spent 5 exciting days working and flying around Moorabbin and Essendon Airports.
Meantime, I kept dreaming and kept my eye on the openings at the Defence WEX website, just in case. Then, just after we finished College WEX week, there it was.
RAAF Central Flying School, in East Sale, is home of Australia’s elite Roulettes aerobatic team and the main training base for all RAAF pilots and aircrew. Only 8 placements of 12 students were available for the year, and the application process was quite detailed and formal. For your application to be considered, you had to submit written details of your understanding of Air Force roles and examples of your leadership and teamwork skills and abilities. So it wasn’t such a simple process. Of course, it was outside of WEX week too. I applied anyway. Finally I received the confirmation, I was accepted.
Everything in Defence is really well organized and very strictly controlled, so each applicant receives a full set of Joining Instructions, with all the details on what is required for the WEX. There was a lot of official paperwork and signoffs to complete with school, but we sorted that out. Finally, I was on my way.
It’s 25 June. Driving 3 hours in the dark, we arrived at East Sale in Gippsland as the sun started to break through the fog. 12 students selected from around Australia were all excited but serious as we met the training Sergeant at the front gate and went into the security office to collect our passes. Security and access is super tight. Suddenly it is all very real. You need formal access approval and photo ID here and at all Defence WEX programs, so make sure to remember it. Two shiny Mercedes buses conveyed us around the new Air Academy; the new pilot school operating in RAAF East Sale. It’s so cool! We were then fitted with our flight suits and had our first lesson. We covered a range of information and career options within the RAAF. At lunch time we ate in the officer’s mess and it was hamburgers for lunch. The rest of the day included a 2 hour introduction to air traffic control, visiting the brand new high tech control tower and an experience with ground defence weapons used to protect air bases. This was presented to us with a table full of gear like ration packs and gas suits. It was incredible to hear all the stories that the staff had from their past experiences. It was dark by the time we finished, tired but super excited.
The following day started at 7.30am, training on three different flight simulators. We also had another lesson that day about the new training aircraft, the Pilatus PC-21. The PC-21 has advanced training capabilities such as simulated weapons systems and an instructor seat in the back for live comments and instructions. We also learnt about all the technology and gadgets used in flight suits and helmets. Finishing the day strong, we got onto the flight line and experienced a real King Air 350 used for Air Combat officer training. Alongside, the Roulettes famous red PC-9’s lined up perfectly waiting ready for action. The whole program was amazing because it gave all 12 of us an absolute inside view into the training and life of a pilot in the RAAF, seeing things most people (even most Defence staff) will never experience in their lifetimes. It was presented in a really positive and engaging way, but also reinforced just how challenging the role is; only 50 candidates are successful from 5000 applicants each year.
My time on WEX was really informative as a career choice insight and is something I’ll never forget. From learning about teaching to fly at Tristar to meeting real fighter pilots down at East Sale made the whole experience one worth enjoying and cherishing. I want to thank Jane Jamieson and Mordialloc College for their assistance to help me achieve my goals. I would also like to express my thanks to both Tristar Aviation and the Defence WEX program staff, who were all super professional and encouraging. If you are interested in aviation or any Defence career, check out these links to get started.
Carter Fox / Year 10