Formation of the Air Academy

Pilot training for the ADF has now transitioned to the PC21 at RAAF Base East Sale.  This will mean that a significant portion of Initial Specialist Employment Training (ISET) for all Officers in Aviation roles will occur at RAAF Base East Sale, not only for RAAF Officer Aviation Candidates but also Australian Army and Royal Australian Navy trainees. 

The concept of the Air Academy (AirA) is more than just the collocation of schools and a name change from Air Training Wing, it will also mirror some aspects of tertiary education.  Instead of the different aviation schools teaching their curriculum in isolation, classes that are common across different courses will be taught together.  This will not only increase the efficiency of the AirA, but it will also ensure that the best instructors and the best facilities are available to all trainees. 

Like many tertiary institutions, RAAF OACs will not have to pick their area of specialisation prior to commencing training.  There will be a number of opportunities through the training continuum where OACs will gain experience across multiple specialisations prior to having to commit to an operational stream. The RAAF will also benefit from deferring selection decisions as there will be more information available to make the decision. As Army and Navy trainees do not have the multitude of operational streams that are available to RAAF trainees, Army and Navy will have their specialisation locked in as part of their recruiting process.

The training at each of the schools within the AirA will also be more modularised and the training outcomes achieved will be recognised by the other schools.  This will allow trainees to diverge to another area of specialisation if necessary, without the need to start at the beginning of their new course.

Aside from taking common classes together, trainees at the AirA will be dispersed through all the accommodation at RAAF Base East Sale, rather than each school having its own accommodation. This will not only assist in meeting learning outcomes, but will also foster an integrated approach to aviation operations. Having a whole of campus approach rather than isolated schools will lead to better immersion for smaller demographic groups. 

Aviation Academy Courses

A trainees’ type of Officer Entry into the ADF does not affect their training options at the AirA. The courses that a trainee undertakes at the AirA are the same no matter if they are appointed for entry via the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) or via Direct Entry (DE).

For RAAF OACs, there are two pathways into the AirA: the Pilot Pathway and the Mission Pathway. If a candidate enters the AirA on the Pilot Pathway their first course at the AirA will be Pilot Basic Course.  If they enter the AirA on the Mission Pathway their first course at the AirA will be Mission Elementary Course. All Army and Navy pilot trainees will also complete Pilot Basic Course at the AirA at East Sale. The Navy’s Maritime Aviation Warfare Officer (AvWO) Course is also conducted at the AirA but it is a separate course.

Aviation Academy Course Cadence. Entry courses to the AirA are designed around courses commencing on a six week cadence. Pilot Basic Courses and Mission Elementary Courses will start on the same day to allow trainees from both courses to take many of the early common classes together. Follow-on courses are also designed to fit in with this cadence to reduce the “white time” between courses so that trainees can get through their Initial Specialist Employment Training (ISET) quickly. The number of RAAF Officer Training School (OTS) courses and the timing of their graduations will also be aligned with the AirA course cadence to reduce white time.  Generally speaking, the early Pilot Basic Courses and Mission Elementary Courses each year will be filled with ADFA graduates and the remaining courses are filled by DE Officers after they have graduated from their initial Officer training.  The AirA transition should be complete in 2021.  

Mission Elementary Course

All RAAF non-pilot OACs will complete Mission Elementary Course at the Air Mission Training School (AMTS) at RAAF Base East Sale.  Mission Elementary Course is 12 weeks in duration. The primary aim of Mission Elementary is to expose non-pilot Officer Aviation Candidates to an aviation environment and give trainees the knowledge, skills, attitude and experience to complete further specialist training in either the ground or airborne aviation environment. The secondary aim of the Mission Elementary Course is to assist in making progression decisions to which specialist training the trainee is best suited. Mission Elementary Course is made up of the following three modules (which are each approximately 4 weeks in duration):

Aviation Fundamentals Module. The aim of the Aviation Fundamentals Module is to give Mission Elementary Course trainees foundation knowledge that will allow them to undergo more specific aviation training which is applicable to further operational stream training. Some of the classes in this module are also taught on Pilot Basic Course, in which case all trainees will undertake the training together.

Control Module. The aim of the Control Module is to develop aviation communication, multi-dimensional thinking, time management and situational awareness while controlling aircraft.  The successful completion of this module is a prerequisite for Air Battle Managers Basic Course at SACTU. Both Air Warfare and Air Traffic Control simulators are used for this module, the techniques and experience gained in this module are also applicable to Mission Aircrew. 

Airborne Exposure Module. The aim of the Airborne Exposure Module is to give all trainees exposure to the airborne aviation environment and to assess their suitability for further Mission Aircrew Training. The Airborne Exposure Module is made up of supporting ground school, simulator events and sorties in the B350 Kingair aircraft. Sorties are approximately 3 hours in duration and are conducted with two Mission Elementary Course trainees and one Aviation Instructor (plus pilots) on board.  The aviation experience gained in these sorties will assist in further operational stream training for ABM, ATC and Mission Aircrew.

Follow-on Courses.  At the end of Mission Elementary Course trainees will head down either the Mission Aircrew Route or the Mission Controller route to their Operational Stream. Stream progression decisions take into account; preference, suitability, ranking and operational stream demand.  The following operational stream training options are available:

  • Air Battle Manager (ABM). Those RAAF OACs streamed to ABM will complete their basic training at the Surveillance and Control Training Unit (SACTU) at RAAF Base Williamtown.  The aim of this training is to produce controllers who have the knowledge, skills, attitude and experience to complete an operational conversion to ground based Surveillance and Control equipment. Later in their careers ABMs can also complete a conversion to allow them to perform a similar role from within the E-7A Wedgetail Early Warning and Control (EW&C) aircraft.  Alternatively some ABMs may undertake specialist training to allow them to conduct long range or satellite surveillance activities. 
  • Air Traffic Controller (ATC). The School of Air Traffic Control (SATC) at RAAF Base East Sale is responsible for basic training for those RAAF OACs streamed ATC. The aim of this training is to produce controllers who have the knowledge, skills, attitude and experience to complete an operational conversion to a control tower at a military air base or a joint civil/military base. Aside from the basic course, the SATC also offers courses that allow ATCs to become approach controllers, supervisors and instructors.  
  • Mission Aircrew. Those trainees identified to undergo Mission Aircrew training will remain at the Air Mission Training School (AMTS) at East Sale and will complete a 12-week Mission Aircrew Common Course.  At the end of the Mission Aircrew Common Course, trainees are streamed and complete more specialised training that will lead them to becoming an AMO, MPRO or a WSO. The Mission Aircrew Training at AMTS is conducted in the classroom, simulators and Kingair aircraft, with the type of skills taught in the specialist blocks varying depending on the stream. 

Pilot Basic Course

Pilot Basic Course is the first course for pilot training regardless of service, and is flown on the PC21.  The aim of Pilot Basic Course is to give trainees knowledge, skills, attitude and experience to progress to further more specific training. The course is approximately 24 weeks in duration and eight courses are conducted each year at a six week cadence. Airborne training sequences on the Pilot Basic Course include General Flying, Instrument Flying, Night Flying and Medium Level Navigation. 

Follow-on Courses.  Graduates from Pilot Basic Course can be streamed to the following:

  • Rotary Wing Pilot Training.  Army pilots will be posted to HMAS Albatross to undergo rotary wing training using the Helicopter Aircrew Training System (HATS) facilities. 
  • Further single-pilot fixed wing training.  All Navy and RAAF trainees will be posted to 2FTS at RAAF Base Pearce to complete further training on the PC21 which is focused on single-pilot training. Called Pilot Intermediate Course, the 30-week course builds on the skills learnt at East Sale as well as new disciplines such as formation and low-level navigation.   At the completion of Pilot Intermediate Course Navy pilots will then be posted to Nowra for rotary wing training. RAAF OACs will either be streamed towards becoming a Fast Jet Pilot (FJP), in which case they will need to complete Pilot Advanced Course, or be streamed to be a Fixed Wing Pilot (FWP), in which case they will need to complete a Fixed Wing (e.g. C-17, P8 etc.) Operational Conversion.  
  • Remote Pilot Training. In the future, the Pilot Basic Course will also lead to Remote Piloted Aircraft (RPA) bridging training at a location still to be determined. 


The AirA is not a replacement for ADFA.  The training at the AirA is conducted after trainees have completed their officer training at either ADFA or one of the Services’ Officer Training Schools.  

The AirA is more than just a number of military aviation schools at the same location.  The AirA will be more like a tertiary institution in that although trainees may be undertaking different courses, they will share accommodation and will at times take classes together. The linking of curriculum will also make it easier to diverge from one course to another if required. 

While RAAF OACs are not appointed to a particular OA operational stream, they will however know when they are appointed whether their first course at the AirA will be Pilot Basic Course or Mission Elementary Course. Navy and Army trainee pilots will also complete Pilot Basic Course and AvWO trainees will complete their own course at the AirA. 

For more information on the Navy and Army Aviation Careers go to Defence Jobs.