AVM Steven 'Zed' Roberton

Surfing the clouds with Steve Roberton

I grew up on the waves and dreamed of being a pro surfer. My hero was Mark Richards, the four-time world champion. I loved the freedom of the ocean, how waves pushed my body to its limits and how quickly they made me think and react. I loved the rush of barreling through a wave and didn’t think anything could feel more awesome. 

Until I started flying... 

My first solo hornet flight was in an F-18 fighter, tail #37. I was sitting in the bubble- like cockpit. It felt like I was strapped onto a bullet. The vibration and sheer power of the jet rumbles through you, and I thought to myself: “I can’t believe they are letting me loose in this thing.” I still feel that way today when I fly. 

Sometimes when I fly, I get to surf through the clouds at supersonic speed and high g’s. It’s like surfing or snowboarding, but there is so much more power and control. You use the strength of your entire body and the power of all your mind. There is nothing like it. It’s the most awesome feeling and I feel so lucky to be able to do it as my job. 

In my current role, I still fly, and I still surf too. But now I’m in charge of the Air Force’s operational squadrons, planes, people and equipment, making sure they are ready for when we need them. Having a science background comes in handy. I studied chemistry and maths at university, and I still use science to understand what I see and feel in the sky. Everything in our world is made up of elements, forces and numbers, and once you understand that, you start to understand how things work.

Zed’s advice to next-gen fighter pilots:
You are far more capable than you think. As a surfie growing up on the Sunshine Coast, I never imagined one day I would be cloud-surfing in F-18 jets.
There is nothing special or elite about any of us pilots. We are normal Aussie girls and boys who have been given the world’s best training, to think and fly super-high and fast in the world’s best planes. You can do it too!

See my collection of fighter pilot helmets in the Jasper magazine.