Air Force engineers lead an engineering team to help create and deliver Australian Defence Force (ADF) capability by applying engineering principles to acquire, sustain, maintain, and manage technology. They work on state aircraft, infrastructure, weapons, ancillary technical equipment and related aviation ground combat support systems like RADAR, SONAR, IT and networks; and operate within a defined engineering management framework comprising relevant ADF regulations and procedural guidance.
As an Engineer in the Air Force you would be able to be employed in roles where you are responsible for regulation, design, project management, logistics support and technical maintenance, to ensure technology is safely, efficiently and effectively employed to generate the required ADF capability. Additionally, as an Officer you are also responsible for the leadership, management, and welfare of technical and logistics personnel within the engineering environment.
Three of the Aerospace Engineer specialisations have similar roles. These are:
Aeronautical (AERO) – responsible for aircraft structures, propulsion and associated mechanical systems and ground support equipment.
Armament (ARMO) – responsible for weapons, weapons systems and associated test equipment and bomb disposal; and
Electronic/Electrical (ELECTR) – responsible for airborne power generation and distribution, electronic/electrical control systems, instrument and navigation systems, automatic test equipment, communications, and radar and sonar equipment, heavy ground radar, ground telecommunication equipment and computer networks. ELECTR Officers can further specialise into aircraft related systems or Ground telecommunications related systems.
After you complete Initial Officer Training you will undertake a Professional Development and Training (PDT) year during which time you will rotate around different roles on a base every few months and undergo your employment training. After completing your PDT year, your first or second posting will likely be Maintenance Engineering or Engineering Management. You will be posted and rotated around new roles approximately every 3 years to gain the depth and breadth of experience required to develop you as a competent engineering leader with increasing levels of responsibility along the way.
Roles of an Aerospace Engineering Officer
The roles of Aerospace Engineers (AERO, ARMO and ELECTR) include:
Maintenance Engineering. Your initial employment in the Air Force would usually be as the officer in charge of a team of technical personnel and facilities associated with day to day maintenance and equipment overhaul at either a maintenance unit, or flying squadron. You will be one of up to half a dozen junior engineers under the guidance of the Senior Engineering Officer, responsible for contributing to the availability of airworthy aircraft or associated equipment by ensuring safe work practices and that other regulatory requirements are met. A flying squadron usually presents opportunities for travel and participation in operations and exercises in Australia and overseas.
Engineering Management. A posting to an Engineering Management role usually involves working in a Systems Program Office (SPO) within the Defence Material Organisation (DMO). SPOs provide engineering and logistics support to wings, squadrons and units. During the service life of an aircraft or item of technical equipment, Air Force Aerospace Engineers may lead a team to: monitor failure; evaluate proposed modifications and repair schemes; supervise and evaluate equipment trials; manage repair contracts; liaise with regulatory authorities; prepare financial estimates; and provide technical and logistics solutions to operational availability issues. To assist in those tasks you will have access to external organisations where you will liaise closely with your civilian counterparts. An engineering management role presents a great opportunity to build systems knowledge and work towards gaining Chartered Professional Engineering status with Engineers Australia.
Project management. As you progress through your career you can be posted into project management roles. These are typically within the DMO and involve either the engineering and maintenance aspects of large acquisition projects (e.g. the purchase of new aircraft and associated weapon systems), or as the manager of a specific engineering or maintenance project (e.g. the F/A 18 Hornet Upgrade Project) within a SPO. Project management roles often present opportunities for travel and the development of your business acumen.
Design Engineering. The Air Force needs professional engineers to sign off on the integrity of a system or piece of equipment to ensure continued airworthiness and safety. You may be posted to a position within a SPO, a regulatory authority, or a niche role (e.g. aerial delivery, operational test and evaluation etc) where you will develop your engineering authority so that you can make technical decisions on engineering changes such as software upgrades, modifications to equipment, system safety, and the approval of structural repairs to name a few. Later in your career, design engineering roles give you the opportunity for overseas Masters Programs sponsored by the technical airworthiness regulatory authority.
Any officer roles. Officers in the Air Force may also undertake a posting to an Any-officer role at some stage during their careers. Examples include instructor/training roles and staff officer roles. This helps to broaden the skill set of an Engineering Officer in preparation for more senior roles.
With the constant introduction of new aircraft (Joint Strike Fighter for example) and equipment to Air Force, life as an Aerospace Engineering Officer is constantly challenging and changing. The Air Force provides many internal courses as well as offering the chance of post-graduate training, workshops and seminars at external institutions to help you meet these new challenges throughout your career.