Formation of the Air Academy

In the period from 2018 to 2020 the Australian Defence Force (ADF) will transition from using the CT4 and PC9 as their training aircraft to the PC21 aircraft.  Basic flying training will also transition from Tamworth to RAAF Base East Sale.  This will mean that a significant portion of Initial Employment Training (IET) for all Officers in Aviation roles will occur at RAAF Base East Sale, not only for RAAF Officer Aviation (OA) students but also Australian Army students and Royal Australian Navy students. 

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 isolations, 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 students. 

Like many tertiary institutions, RAAF AirA students 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 students 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. Because the Army and Navy students do not have the multitude operational streams that are available to RAAF Students, 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 students 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, students 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 student’s type of Officer Entry into the ADF does not affect their training options at the AirA. The courses that a student 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 OAs, 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 students 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. Each year there will be eight Pilot Basic Courses and Eight Mission Elementary Courses with courses starting on the same day to allow students 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 students can get through their Initial Employment Training (IET) 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 first three Pilot Basic Courses and first three Mission Elementary Courses each year will be filled with ADFA graduates and the remaining five filled by DE Officers after they have graduated from their initial Officer training.  Air Training Wing will begin to transition to the AirA in 2018 achieving a steady state in 2021.

Mission Elementary Course

All RAAF non-pilot OA students will complete Mission Elementary Course at 1FTS at RAAF Base East Sale.  Mission Elementary Course is 12 weeks in duration and eight courses are conducted each year at a six week cadence. The primary aim of Mission Elementary is expose non-pilot Officer Aviation students to an aviation environment and give students 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 student 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 students 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 students 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. While the Air Warfare Simulator is primarily used for this module, the techniques and experience gained in this module are also applicable to Air Traffic Controller (ATC) and Mission Aircrew training. 

Airborne Exposure Module

The aim of the Airborne Exposure Module is to give all OA students 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 students 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 students 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 OAs 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 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 OAs streamed ATC. The aim of this training is 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 students identified to undergo Mission Aircrew training will remain at East Sale and will complete a 24-week Mission Aircrew Basic Course.  During this course students will be streamed to either Maritime Patrol and Response Officer (MPRO), as part of the crew of a P-8A Poseidon, or Weapons Systems Officer (WSO) in the backseat of a F/A-18 Super Hornet or Growler.  While many of the early training events are common to both the MPR and WSO operational streams, towards the end of week Mission Aircrew Basic Course students are given more specific training appropriate for their 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 students 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 students will be posted to 2FTS at 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 OA students 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 (eg 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 students 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 students 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 OAs 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 student pilots will also complete Pilot Basic Course and AvWO students will complete their own course at the AirA. 

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