Female “Firsts” in the Air Force

Pilots

The first female Royal Australian Air Force pilots were Flight Lieutenant Robyn Williams and Officer Cadet Deborah Hicks. Both graduated from the same flying course (No 144 PLTCSE) on 30 June 1988.

Officer Cadet Hicks flew Mystere VIP aircraft at No 34 SQN and discharged in 1994.

Flight Lieutenant Williams went on to qualify as a flying instructor in 1992 before undergoing test pilot training in the UK. After serving with the Aircraft Research and Development Unit, she was promoted to Squadron Leader and posted to the US for five years. There she led the resident Air Force project team taking delivery of new C-130J Hercules. Promoted to Wing Commander in March 2000, she returned to Australia later that year to manage the C-130J program office.

Engineers

The first female engineer is less clear. On 1 February 1978, the Air Force appointed its first female engineering student, Pilot Officer Margaret Maxwell. It appears that she had already completed two years of tertiary education as an engineer before enlisting, because in 1980 she was posted to an Aeronautical Engineering position.

On 21 August 1979, the Air Force appointed Flying Officer Rosalea Hotchkies as our first qualified engineer. She was a direct entry Radar Engineer.

Female Pilots

There are no restrictions on employment of females in the Air Force, including all pilot positions.

As at May 2-18, there were over 820 pilots in the trained permanent Air Force, 40 of whom were women (around 4.9%). There were over 200 pilots under training, 50 of whom were women (around 25%).

Air Force actively encourages women to apply to fly fighter jets, and in December 2017, we graduated our first female fighter pilots from the Operational Conversion Unit at RAAF Base Williamtown. Like their forebears, these graduates completed the same course requirements as their male peers and have joined a growing cadre of women successfully flying fighter jets around the world, including in the United States, France, Turkey, Israel and other nations. 

Air Force has implemented several programs to assist women who choose a pilot career. Entry to the Graduate Pilot Scheme is open to women who are currently undertaking a Bachelor of Aviation (BAv). Once qualified, women pilots are able to access the Flying Females Mentoring Network.

Men and women are required to undergo the same basic fitness tests to become a pilot; however the standards are different for age and gender. For some roles, the requirement cannot be adjusted for safety reasons.

Female aircrew

Women are eligible to fly as aircrew on all aircraft or control aircraft in the Air Force.

As at May 2018, there are 257 female aircrew and aircraft controllers in the Air Force, with another 121 undergoing training. This includes Officer Aviation jobs such as:

  • Pilots (now split into Officer Aviation – fast jet pilot and Officer Aviation – fixed wing pilot);

  • Air Combat Officers (now split into Officer Aviation – air battle management, Officer Aviation – airborne electronics officer, Officer Aviation – air mobility officer, Officer Aviation – maritime patrol and response officer, Officer Aviation – weapons systems officer); and

  • Air Traffic Controllers.

It also includes Airmen Aircrew jobs such as:

  • Airborne Electronic Analysts;

  • Crew Attendants; and

  • Loadmasters.

Air Force's commitment to improving gender diversity is demonstrated through a comprehensive Gender Diversity Strategy. Initiatives include mentoring for female members, strategies for improved flexible working arrangements, and support for new parents.

Australian Women's Pilot Association membership

We pay for our female pilots to be members of the Australian Women's Pilot Association. This sponsorship provides an invaluable mentoring and professional development opportunity for female Air Force pilots to engage with other female pilots outside the military network.

Air Force sponsored Flying Scholarships

Each year the Chief of Air Force awards two scholarships to young women under the age of 24. The scholarship is designed to assist young women in the costs of pursuing a career in aviation.