Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Flight Lieutenant Caitlin Rytenskild mentoring a new generation of Australian military aviators after a career as a transport pilot.
Although Rytenskild enjoyed attending air shows as a child, it was not until she was a teenager that she decided to pursue a career in aviation, during a year in the Australian Air Force Cadet Programme.
“It was through the cadets that I did my first flight in a small plane and I’m so hooked,” she says.
After that, Rytenskild, who hails from Melbourne, took piloting lessons at a local airfield. After “10 or 12 flights” she made her first solo assignment in a Cessna 152. However, the cost of private flight training was prohibitive so she applied to the RAAF while studying and was accepted.
After that it went fast. After four months of officer training, Rytenskild completed ab initio training that included several months flying the Pacific Aerospace CT/4 trainer. She then spent nine months in the service’s Basic Flying Training School with the Pilatus PC-9, where she earned her wings.
After an initial stint as a co-pilot with 34 Sqn flying the Boeing 737 BBJ for VIPs, Rytenskild joined 36 Sqn as a co-pilot on the Boeing C-17 strategic transport aircraft. Subsequently, she became the captain of the type.
Rytenskild has fond memories of her time with C-17. One mission required a flight to the Australian Research Mission in Antarctica carrying food and other supplies. The mission was to fly to Hobart, Tasmania and wait for a week for ideal weather conditions. A long weather window in Antarctica was essential as the aircraft has to remain on the ice for several hours to facilitate loading and unloading.
Rytenskild’s favorite C-17 mission, however, was a circumnavigation of the world shortly after she took the left seat. Rytenskild and her crew were ordered to fly west, dropping off and picking up cargo in Europe and the United States.
“I just took off from Amberley, flew west and kept flying west,” she says. “It’s always something that will stay with me. I’ve learned so much about everything in those ten days…flying all over the world…how to lead a crew and just learning by doing. It was quite spectacular picking up and dropping off cargo at different airports around the world.”
Rytenskild adds that what she likes about C-17 operations is the relative autonomy. The orders for the mission come in and the plane takes off – often on its own. On a long mission like the circumnavigation of the world, the crew consists of the captain, two co-pilots, one or two loadmasters and a maintenance crew.
The maintenance technicians perform any repairs deemed necessary before and after the flight of the aircraft.
“As the captain, you run the show no matter how long you’re gone and you call home if you need help. But other than that, you and your crew are on your own.”
Rytenskild says that during her four years in C-17 she transported all types of cargo, from people and ammunition to vehicles. A memorable flight was the transport of military working dogs.
“We’re instructed to carry something big that needs to be picked up, and if we have the time and the ability, we’ll do it,” she says.
From the C-17 Rytenskild moved to No 2 Flying Training School RAAF where she trains new pilots. However, the PC-9, in which she earned her wings, was retired with the arrival of the PC-21.
Rytenskild gives the new aircraft high marks, particularly for new systems that better prepare pilots for the more demanding types they will fly later in their careers, such as the PC-21’s head-up display, flight management system and autopilot.
“I find it quite exciting that the students have seen all of these things before they fly something bigger, like some of the students might fly the 737. You will have learned how to use all of these systems, or at least have seen them before.”
Rytenskild particularly enjoys mentoring younger pilots and seeing their progress.
After her time with PC-21, Rytenskild is expected to advance to an operational squadron as an instructor. In their case, it’s probably about teaching new pilots the ins and outs of the C-17.
“Basically, the general plan for everyone is to go back where you came from,” she says. “My time here is to learn how to teach and hone my teaching skills.”
Rytenskild notes that women’s representation in the RAAF is growing. A sign of this occurred on 5 August 2020 when she and two colleagues formed an all-female C-17 crew – the RAAF’s second such C-17 crew. She also points out that a previous generation of female pilots helped pave the way for themselves and other women to find careers with the RAAF.
In order to get younger women into the ministry, she believes it is essential that they can see and speak to women who work in aviation. When she joined the RAAF there were a handful of female pilots, but she notes that there are now three female instructors at the flight school and a number of female students.
She points to efforts such as the RAAF camps for young women aged 16 to 24, which offer insight into both aviation and technical roles in the Air Force. Additionally, this is a place where young women who aspire to careers in the RAAF can begin to build a network of friends.
Rytenskild also notes that the industry and RAAF have been working to change the culture to make it “a nicer and safer place to work for everyone, especially people who are different, both women and everyone else – including men.” “.