All imagery © Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Defence
Ipswich’s own hotshot fighter pilot is Squadron Leader Robert Cousland.
SQN LDR Cousland’s day job is to fly the RAAF’s most powerful aircraft, a F/A-18F Super Hornet.

There’s a clichéd view of fighter pilots, harboured from the cocky strut of Top Gun’s Maverick.

Squadron Leader Robert Cousland is “that” guy, but as he sips coffee from his take away cup dressed in a fighter pilot jumpsuit and hidden behind dark sunglasses, he points out – that he’s not necessarily the kind of guy portrayed in the hit 80s movie.

Sure, he understands the hotshot analogy and where it comes from. He’s got nerves of steel, and the weight of a nation’s security bearing down on his shoulders.

He’s calm, but there’s no Tom Cruise swagger. It’s more a calculated confidence, rather than the reckless character of the film.

Flying a jet aircraft might be everyone’s dream. But it’s not for everyone. Every time SQNLDR Cousland flies, he’s zipped into a heavy flying suit, squeezed into a helmet, strapped to a seat with an oxygen mask covering half his face. It’s a small, claustrophobic space.

The gas-sucking fire beast he’s flying hurtles along faster than the speed of sound.

Mission number one: Stay conscious. Mission number two: Maintain focus. When the two throttles are slammed forward, things can get a bit hectic.

“When you close the canopy on an aircraft, particularly the high performance aircraft, your IQ halves,” he said.

“You are in a claustrophobic space and there are so many things, you’re breathing through an oxygen mask, you’re strapped in tight and there are all of these procedures to follow. Meanwhile the G Force is asserting a lot of pressure on your body.

“It takes lots of time, lots of practice and training to build your situational awareness

“It’s just instinct now. Flying becomes second nature. I don’t really have to think about it.”

He has been in the military since he left school.

“I have been flying the Hornet for the past 10 years straight. I have been on operations and exercises all over the world. I was lucky enough to do an exchange with the US Navy,” he said.

“We don’t have any aircraft carriers over here and they were nice enough to let me have a go on one of theirs. And there are not too many Australians that have done that. It was a phenomenal experience.”

Currently, SQNLDR Cousland is one half of a display crew. As Australia’s most powerful show boater, he travels the country, performing in air shows and ceremonies.

“Flying a multimillion dollar fighter jet around the skies of Australia and the world. You cannot get any better than that. I do have to pinch myself sometimes,” he said.

It’s been a long road to acrobatic displays for the 33 year old.

When he was little he would beg his parents to take him to sit by the airport and watch the planes take off and land.

“I have always wanted to fly, right from when I was little,” he said

“I lived close to the airport at Cairns, there is a big mountain right next to the airport so you could go and sit up there at the look out and watch planes coming and going for hours on end.

“I remember being hooked on flight simulators when I was 8 or 9. Back when computers barely had graphics. I’ve maintained an interest in simulators all the way through, then that translated into have a go in a Cessna when I was 15. I used to ride across to the airport on my push bike because I wasn’t allowed to drive but I was legally able to fly. I got my solo pilot’s licence at 16.

“I didn’t necessarily know I wanted to be a fast jet pilot but I was really interested in the bigger aircraft. The industry at the time, it was not a sure thing that you would get through to that stage, it would have been a long slog ahead in outback Queensland and the Northern Territory first.


F/A-18F Super Hornet

Fact Box

*The Super Hornet is flown by a team of two, a pilot and an air combat officer.

*The Australian Air Force has 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets

*It is manufactured by Boeing

*Length: 19.3 m, Height: 4.9 m,

*Wingspan 13.6 m

*Two F414-GE-400 turbofans (9,800 kg thrust each)

*It can take off with a weight of
29 900kg

*It can reach a top speed of 1960 km/h, that is Mach 1.6

“Around the end of high school some military recruiters came though and I found out I could get an education, world class training and all the benefits, with a chance of one day flying fast jets. So I knew it was for me.”

It turns out the perfect job requires you to have your head in the clouds.

SQNLDR Cousland’s office is in the heavens with brilliant 360 degree views.

If you keep your eyes on the sky above Ipswich you may see him at work.

No. 1 Squadron is located at RAAF Base Amberley and are part of the 82 Wing.

The squadron nickname is the ‘Fighting First’.

Even the Super Hornets have a nickname, ‘Rhino’. They can be used as a fighter escort, air interception, close air support and reconnaissance and can also conduct land, maritime and ground strikes.

SQNLDR Cousland’s callsign is Snakeye. “My callsign is Snakeye. That refers to a particular weapon we carry on the jet. It’s a bit of a slower weapon, so a bit of banter there,” he said.

Top Gun was a military action movie released in 1986.

Made Worldwide: $356 830 601

Won the academy award for original song ‘Take my breath away’

Top Gun 2 is to be released in 2019. Everything we know about it:

It’s called ‘Maverick’ and begins shooting in July.

Tom Cruise first publically confirmed Top Gun 2 in an interview on Sunrise (2016)
The director will be Joseph Kosinski. It is the second collaboration between Tom Cruise and Joseph Kosinski, they both worked on Oblivion (2013)

It will be released 33 years after the original.

“It’s going to be a competition film like the first one” Tom shared in an Access Hollywood interview.

Tom is couch-jumping- worthy excited.

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