Air Vice Marshal Cath Roberts

Breaking barriers with Cath Roberts


Space race inspiration

When I was very young I watched Neil Armstrong land on the moon. I was fascinated by the engineering and mathematical challenges that were overcome to get a space rocket and its passengers safely all the way from planet Earth to the moon. I also love the movie Hidden Figures which tells the story of the women who helped the space race with computing, despite the many challenges and obstacles they faced at that time. 


Breaking barriers 

Neil Armstrong inspired me to study maths and science at school and I went on to become one of the first 10 women to study Engineering at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and graduated with a degree in Aerospace Engineering. At the time Aerospace Engineering was the toughest course to get into at uni. As soon as I found that out, I knew it was the course for me! I joined the Air Force when I was 16. I love sci-fi movies and I thought that the Air Force was the closest real-life thing to being in Star Trek: I could explore the world, use state-of-the- art technology and become a leader. Plus, I would be saving the world every day. 


Reaching for the stars 

During my application, an Air Force recruiter asked me what job I wanted to do. “I want to run the Air Force,” I replied. “So whatever leads me to that!”. The recruiter politely told me that was a wild ambition but I joined anyway and I have never looked back. Of course I still have moments where I question myself, like when I’m outnumbered in a room full of male fighter pilots, but in those circumstances, I tap into my inner voice and just go for it! 


The coolest job in the world 

In my 35 year Air Force career I’ve done more than 20 different jobs making lifelong friends along the way. I’ve travelled all across the world to places as far apart as Malaysia, Thailand, Canada, America and most of Europe. I’ve worked and studied in London doing a course to set up a network of contacts to make the world a safer place, I’ve been parachuted out of an aircraft at 10,000 ft to test a new satellite communication system and learnt lots of special and top-secret stuff about the technology that keeps Australia safe. I’ve flown in aircraft to test how they spin. I’ve supervised aircraft being built from scratch. I’ve also bought and sold billions of dollars worth of airplanes with very cool names such as Super Hornet, Orion, Growler, Poseidon, Avenger, Hercules and Lightning. 


My advice

When I look back over my career, I think of the kids who missed out on such exciting opportunities because they didn’t continue maths and science studies. My message to anyone reading this is simple – GO FOR IT! 

Jasper’s reading recommendation: 
Counting on Katherine’ by Helaine Becker is the story of Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who worked for NASA and calculated the course of moon landings.

Check me out in Jasper’s magazine.