Baseballer spins the wheel to become a Roulette

Baseballer spins the wheel to become a Roulette

During Army National Service training, Ron Biddell watched the Air Force Mustangs and Canberras fly over, but never imagined he would be in the cockpit.

“There was never any conscious desire for me to be a pilot, although I was somewhat envious of the Air Force pilots as they flew over us at low level while we trudged on our day-long pack marches,” former Wing Commander Biddell (retd) recalled.

But in 1961 at the age of 21, he decided to apply and, after a long recruitment process, Mr Biddell received good news via telegram. 

“I had been accepted for pilot training on No. 44 Course and was to be in Point Cook on August 24, 1961 − just two weeks’ notice,” he said.

Mr Biddell almost didn’t join the Air Force; he was working for the South Australian Government, studying civil engineering at university and even had a promising baseball career.

He graduated from pilot training and was posted around Australia and overseas, including to No. 2 Operational Conversion Unit for Canberra aircraft conversion and No. 2 Squadron in Butterworth, Malaysia.

Fourteen years after enlisting, Mr Biddell was appointed chief flying instructor at the Central Flying School at RAAF Base East Sale and became leader of the Roulettes aerobatic team.

The Roulettes, flying Macchi jet trainers at the time, were increasing the number of displays they performed each year, which led Mr Biddell to think about redesigning the logo to be more in line with other military aerobatic teams.

“On a large sheet of brown paper, laid out on the hangar floor, I drafted my concept of the stylised R and the GT stripe starting at the nose of the aircraft, continuing along the fuselage and sweeping up the fin,” Mr Biddell said.

This stylised R has been used on Roulettes’ aircraft for the past 44 years, including on today’s PC-21s.

“This was a very satisfying achievement during my tenure as Roulettes’ leader,” Mr Biddell said.

During his time on the team, the Roulettes had a display in Townsville and Mr Biddell sought approval for the group to fly back to the team’s base at RAAF Base East Sale via the centre of Australia.

It was a long shot.

“I thought those communities would never have had an opportunity to see the Air Force and certainly not the Roulettes,” Mr Biddell said.

Approval was granted and the Roulettes flew displays over Uluru, Mt. Isa, Alice Springs and Woomera. 

Mr Biddell said the turnout from the locals and schoolchildren in these communities was amazing, and the team delighted in the opportunity to talk to them at great length after the displays. 

“We couldn’t have been more pleased or proud of those moments,” Mr Biddell said.

While in Alice Springs, Mr Biddell had an idea for the Roulettes to be photographed in formation over Uluru at sunset.

This was not a simple exercise as it was a stretch for the fuel range of the Macchi.

“We managed to do it, albeit with low-fuel warning lights on in every aircraft as we returned to Alice Springs at dusk,” Mr Biddell said. 

“This was one of my proudest achievements.”

The photographs taken during that flight have since been recreated by the Roulettes. 

Mr Biddell left the Roulettes when he was posted to Canberra, firstly to the staff college and then as a personal assistant to an air vice-marshal.

He later returned to RAAF Base East Sale as the commanding officer of the Central Flying School.

That’s where he spent his last two years in the Air Force.

He retired in 1981 after 20 years of service.

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