RFDS pilot first woman in the Southern Hemisphere to command the Pilatus PC-24 jet

Date published

08 Mar 2019

RFDS pilot Lisa Roper-Campbell first got her taste for flying across remote landscapes in 1998, transporting people to and fro, from mine sites to their communities.  

After taking up various postings in North Queensland, South Australia, Darwin and Cairns over 13 years, Lisa decided to give flying a break to ski and to travel. 

Two years later, while on a road trip from Jindabyne, NSW to Perth in 2013, Lisa remembers sighting an RFDS airstrip along Eyre highway on the Nullabor, which planted a seed and reignited her passion for flying.   

Little did she know, that given moment would lead her to becoming the first female in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere to command the Pilatus PC-24 jet aircraft, specially designed for aero medical service by the RFDS in Western Australia.

Since the jet’s arrival in Western Australia last December, Lisa has clocked a minimum 25 hours of supervised flying, undertaken training missions and is the first pilot to be line checked out of her cohort.

To add to the accolade, Lisa was chosen to fly the RFDS’ second Rio Tinto LifeFlight PC-24 jet home, from Buochs, Switzerland to Western Australia; making pit-stops in Egypt, Oman, India, Singapore and Broome before arriving in Jandakot on February 22.

“I’m really excited, more honoured, professionally and personally to have been given the opportunity to fly our second LifeFlight PC-24 jet home to Perth. It truly was an adventure of a lifetime,” she said.   

Before earning her wings as a PC-24 pilot with RFDS Western Operations, Lisa had to complete training with US Flight Safety International in Dallas-Fortworth, undertaking a three-week-long program entailing theory, training in an aircraft simulator and emergency procedure training.

When asked what it’s like to fly the PC-24 jet, she said: “The aircraft is performing as well as anticipated with an amazing take-off and initial climb profile. The PC-24 jet can land on short airstrips, it’s smooth to fly and comfortable. Systems wise, it’s a pilot-friendly aircraft to fly.

“From the air, you get an appreciation of how massive WA actually is. The contrast of WA’s desert in the east with the coastline of the west – it’s just amazing.” 

Lisa’s RFDS journey

Lisa’s story with the RFDS began in 2015 when she commenced as a line-pilot for the RFDS South Eastern section, based in Sydney.

Working as a pilot for the mining industry was worlds away from her experience with the RFDS.  

“Flying was the easy bit,” she chuckled.

“I had to learn how to operate the loading system and coordinate with medical crews to take into account the medical condition of the patient and their needs when flying. I became more aware of the operating environment than ever before.

“One of the things that draws you to the RFDS is knowing that you are making a real difference, the work you do is meaningful and you can help people.

“We are flying people on sometimes the worst day of their life and trying to make it as comfortable as possible, making them feel like they’re not alone.”

Lisa’s husband, Shawn Roper-Campbell, is also a PC-24 pilot with RFDS Western Operations.

The pair met while working in Burketown as pilots in 1998, and have since worked for the same employer.

“For us, it’s so comfortable sharing the same workplace. It’s a really interesting dynamic. Some people look horrified when they find out and say they could never work with their partner,” she laughed.

With the national average for female pilots sitting on a mere five percent, Lisa encourages young girls and women to pursue a career in aviation. 

“When I come to work, I’m focused on doing the best job I can, ensuring the safety of all on board as our medical crews deliver essential medical care to those who need us the most,” she said.   

“I encourage young girls and women who are interested in a career in aviation to just go for it. Gender is no barrier to achieving your dreams and goals, flying is a job that anyone can do if you put your mind to it.”