What does it take to be a Navy pilot? Derek Royal spoke to Lieutenant Tammielee Moffatt to find out.
On November 13, 1998, Sub Lieutenant Natalee McDougall graduated from the Australian Defence Academy’s helicopter training facility. For Natalee, the graduation meant an end to 17 months of intensive training and the realisation of a lifetime dream. For the Navy, the historical significance of her graduation was immense. After all, Natalee not only became the first woman to graduate as a pilot for the RAN in 50 years of Naval aviation; she also became a source of inspiration for young women who dreamed of becoming military pilots.
One woman who has taken advantage of the pathway pioneered by McDougall is 27-year-old Lieutenant Tammielee Moffatt, a Bell 429 pilot with 723 Squadron on the South Coast of NSW. Tammielee is one of three female pilots currently serving in the Navy, while another five are in training.
“When I was going through the recruitment process, I was interested in becoming either an Air Force pilot or a Navy pilot,” Tammielee says. “Air Force was my initial choice until I looked further into Australian military aviation and discovered that the Navy had pilots and that they flew helicopters. Flying at sea and landing a helicopter on the back of a ship, potentially at night and in bad weather, seemed like the ultimate challenge.”
Indeed, for the adventurous girl from the Central Coast of NSW, challenges have helped mould Tammielee into the self-assured woman she is today. Throughout primary and high school, Tammielee was an avid martial artist, winning gold at three world championships. She also enjoyed academics and was a member of her high school’s debating and hockey teams.
“Martial arts gave me a solid foundation of discipline, respect and in essence, a rank structure in which my understanding of the military was enhanced,” she says. “I also played hockey and was greatly involved with the debating team and public speaking; which were helpful in understanding team dynamics in a competitive environment, as well as performing under pressure.”
By her early teens, Tammielee had decided to pursue a career as a military pilot, an ambition encouraged by a family friend who introduced her to flying. “When I was around 14 years old I went gliding with a family friend,” Tammielee says. “That was my first taste of aviation and it really sparked my interest. Shortly after, I saw a newspaper advertisement for a scholarship on offer at my local flying school. I made some enquiries and was lucky enough to earn the scholarship. That opportunity really cemented my desire to become a pilot.”
Tammielee continued her love affair with flying but unfortunately, illness prevented her from completing her Year 11 studies. Despite the setback, the youngster remained true to her dream and rather than repeat at high school, she instead enrolled in a Certificate IV course in Tertiary Preparation at Gosford TAFE. “I have always enjoyed learning but didn’t particularly enjoy high school,” she says. “I enjoyed TAFE immensely as it was an adult learning environment. This helped me achieve good grades, resulting in an academic achievement award and fulfilment of the education requirements for the ADF (Australian Defence Force).
According to the Navy’s official website, ADF pilot applicants must have completed Year 12 with passes in English, Mathematics (Tertiary Entrance Level) and two other academic subjects. Maths in Society or similarly modified maths subjects are not acceptable. Minimum grades are set for chemistry, geography and physics, while applicants must also have achieved a minimum of a C grade or equivalent in Year 10 Science if a physical science subject is not passed at year 11 or 12.
The ADF pilot selection process emphasises piloting ability and aptitude, while equally important are qualitative assessments of personal qualities such as maturity, confidence, motivation, interest in flying, and interest in the role and lifestyle of an ADF pilot. These factors are examined throughout the process.
The whole process is competitive in nature and while initial selection looks at citizenship, educational and medical considerations, the ADF Pilot’s Course requires both intellectual and physical vigour. Consequently, Defence Force Recruiting will pay particular attention to an applicant’s educational background, record of academic achievement and their ability to study and produce results.
Tammielee passed the initial stages of recruitment with flying colours, but even now, after six years on the job as a Naval aviator, she reinforces the value of motivation and the desire to follow the dream.
“I would say the most important qualities for being a military pilot are tenacity, determination and motivation,” she says. “The recruitment process was very competitive and required a substantial amount of study and demonstration of motivation. The training was difficult at times and challenging at others. But every part of the training pipeline builds on previous knowledge and skill sets so although designed to be challenging, it is predictable and allows a fair amount of consolidation.”
Navy pilots undertake the same flying training as their Air Force counterparts, so once Tammielee passed the recruitment process, she headed to BFTS Tamworth for basic flying training in the venerable CT-4B. Buoyed by her previous flying experience and ambition, Tammielee aced the six month course and then headed to Western Australia for an intensive 34-week advanced pilot training program at RAAF No. 2 Flying Training School (2FTS) Pearce, where candidates come face-to-face with the high performance PC-9.
By this stage of the pilot training process, the demands placed on students and the expected standards of flying and airmanship are very high. Indeed, having the ability to keep pace with a rapid rate of learning both academically and technically are mandatory requirements. Failure to do so often leads to dismissal from the course at any time.
Thankfully, all the blood, sweat and tears paid off for Tammielee as she earned her wings before being deployed to 723 Squadron at HMAS Albatross in southern NSW. The squadron’s primary focus is training and all new pilots must undertake conversion training from fixed wing to rotary wing aircraft, in preparation for further training in operational helicopters. The squadron currently has 13 AS350 Squirrel helicopters and three Bell 429s.
Today, Lieutenant Tammielee Moffatt is living the dream. She has logged more than 600 flying hours and operates the Navy’s new, high-tech Bell 429, all the while thriving on the challenges of being one of a select few.
“This job is a continual source of new challenges,” she says. “Successfully meeting those challenges, developing new skills for a new facet of flying or completing a particularly difficult sortie, is the most satisfying part of the job.”
With 723 Squadron being a training squadron, Tammielee primarily flies training sorties for Aviation Warfare Officers (AvWO’s), aircrewmen or for continuation training for herself and crew. She also does many VIP transfers and Community Engagement events. But one mission in particular stands out as a highlight.
“My most interesting mission would have to be a training mission when I was flying the AS350,” Tammielee says. “I was newly qualified on type and had completed my Deck Landing qualification the day before. I was tasked as Aircraft Captain with a newly qualified AvWO to join a ship to conduct Deck Landing serials for the whole day. This demonstration of trust from my superiors and conducting work with a ship was some of the best flying I have done.”
Being a Navy pilot is one of the most rewarding careers imaginable so when asked what advice she would give to prospective military pilots’, it’s not surprising when Tammielee simply replies: “Don’t give up! There are plenty of people who have become successful military pilots who endured some hardship at some stage. If it is indeed something you want to do in life then give it your all and see what happens. You don’t know unless you try.”
NAVY FACTS AND FIGURES
NUMBER OF PILOTS EMPLOYED BY THE NAVY
103 (3 women)
REQUIRED LENGTH OF SERVICE
Dependent on the type of entry. Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) entry requires a total of 14 years’ service; direct entry requires 10 years.
NAVY HELICOPTER FLEET
AS350 Squirrel, Bell 429, MRH90 Taipan, S-70B Seahawk
Navy pilots are involved in many types of missions, from humanitarian aid to anti-piracy and anti-terrorism. Having an aircraft embarked on a ship provides an additional capability that can assist with anti-surface warfare and anti-submarine warfare. The embarked helicopters can be tasked with a variety of related missions.
Pay varies with rank, skill set and time in service. Once qualified with a rank of lieutenant, a base salary of $67,699 plus service allowance of $12,294 and flying pay of $8,142 can be earned. This is in addition to the provision of medical, dental and superannuation services.