Poseidon pilot living the dream
As a child, Flight Lieutenant Angus Wheeler thought it would be cool to work underground in mines or be flying through the sky.
CAPTION: Pilot Flight Lieutenant Angus Wheeler, from No. 292 Squadron, plans the departure and arrival for an upcoming mission in the flight deck of a P-8A Poseidon aircraft at RAAF Base Edinburgh. Story by Corporal Veronica O’Hara. Photo by Leading Aircraftman Sam Price.
With a father as a mining electrical engineer, the Darwin-born P-8A Poseidon pilot later lived in South Australia before moving to Brisbane, where his parents still live.
Flight Lieutenant Wheeler decided to become a pilot when he was in his early teens, but was unsure whether to go the civilian or military route.
While visiting different areas of China during a high school trip during language studies, Flight Lieutenant Wheeler realised what Australia meant to him.
He wanted to give back to his country and join Air Force.
After completing a Bachelor of Technology in Aviation at the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA), Flight Lieutenant Wheeler graduated pilot training in 2012 and began flying AP-3C Orions.
Four years later in mid-2016, he was part of the first crews flying the Poseidon in Jacksonville, Florida.
After flying the P-8A at RAAF Base Edinburgh for three years, Flight Lieutenant Wheeler moved to RAAF Base East Sale in mid-2020 to instruct trainee pilots at No. 1 Flight training School on PC-21s. The trainees could be posted to the Poseidon after they graduated.
During P-8A Poseidon conversion, students go through ground school, simulator and aircraft training, then a tactical phase, which takes six months.
Flight Lieutenant Wheeler said students think flying instructors must have always been good pilots through training, but that is not always the case.
When he was a trainee pilot, Flight Lieutenant Wheeler was not performing well in a particular phase of flying training, but told his instructor he would work hard to pass the flying test.
“Some students nowadays want it so badly, they end up performing poorly. They do it to themselves,” Flight Lieutenant Wheeler said.
“I said to myself back then, ‘Gus, it’s just a job. You really want to do this, but if it doesn’t work out, you’ll find something else’.
“This relieved the pressure and I performed a lot better afterwards.”
As a result, he can empathise with students and will tell them to “ease up”.
Compared to the Orion, Flight Lieutenant Wheeler said the Poseidon was a leap forward in technology.
“It’s a lot more comfortable and more engaging, and we’ve gone from flying an older aircraft with a flight engineer to a much more modern platform.” Flight Lieutenant Wheeler said.
“The technology and connectivity we have now, more so in the back end, means the capability is incredible.”
His career highlights included becoming Australia’s first line captain on a Poseidon, and being part of the crew that fired a harpoon and torpedo during Exercise Rim of the Pacific 2018, which was a first for RAAF’s P-8As.
At school, Flight Lieutenant Wheeler wanted to do three things: play rugby, row and learn the bagpipes.
It was music that taught him routine and the need to practice perfectly.
Playing through high school, he became pipe major of its band and then while at ADFA, he competed with the Canberra Burns Club pipe band, and went back for competitions after moving.
But Flight Lieutenant Wheeler didn’t touch his bagpipes for some years until he had his first child.
“That made me want to get my chanter [practice instrument] out to play for him,” he said.
“He kind of gets into it.”
This motivated Flight Lieutenant Wheeler to get the pipes going again but, to avoid upsetting neighbours, he plans to play outside at work during lunch breaks.