The man leading our IS air strikes

Written By Unknown on Rabu, 01 Oktober 2014 | 20.01

Air strike against an ISIL-held building east of Al Hasakah, Syria. Courtesy US Central Command.

Steve Roberton ... The commander of the biggest air force task group to leave Australia since the Vietnam War. Picture: Supplied. Source: Supplied

WHEN he was growing up on Queensland's Sunshine Coast Air Commodore Steve 'Zed' Roberton preferred surfing to plane spotting or building model aircraft.

The commander of the biggest air force task group to leave Australia since the Vietnam War is universally popular and widely tipped as a future Chief of air force.

His path into the cockpit of a RAAF fast jet fighter (he has logged 2500 hours on F/A-18 Hornets) and the eventual command of 400 personnel poised for war in the Middle East was very different to most young RAAF officers.

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Strong leader ... Group Captain Steve Roberton, Officer Commanding No. 82 Wing, in front of an F/A-18F Super Hornet at RAAF Base Amberley. Picture: Supplied Source: Supplied

It wasn't until he was in the second year of a Science Degree at the University of Queensland that Steve Roberton even thought about taking to the air. The decision only came about after he noticed an attractive blonde promoting the university gliding club.

"She was a terrific girl. I dated her for a while and started flying and just loved it," he said.

"I seemed to have a bit of a knack for it [flying] and that was it. I thought, 'I'll have a crack at that'."

After finishing his degree the free spirited surfer joined the RAAF and found himself with a new haircut and at flying training school as one of just two 'bog rats' (trainees) who had never even flown an aircraft fitted with an engine.

That didn't seem to matter and Roberton became dux of his fast jet course and was posted to F/A-18 Hornet fighters.

Like all pilots he clearly recalls his first solo flight in the fighter jet on a beautiful clear afternoon at RAAF base Willamtown near Newcastle in NSW.

Taking control ... John Haly, Glen Braz and Steve Roberton in the cockpit of a Super Hornet at Lemoore US Navy airstation in California. Picture: Supplied Source: Supplied

"I remember thinking what a monumental folly it was that the government was paying me to take a $40 million jet flying when I didn't seem to have much of a clue about it. It was just brilliant, just fantastic," he said.

He rose to command the Number 75 Hornet Squadron before being appointed head of the air combat transition office (Super Hornets) and then officer commanding Number 82 fighter Wing. He was one of the RAAF's youngest ever Group Captains.

In mid-2009, while undertaking Super Hornet conversion training at the US Naval Air Station at Leemore near Fresno in California, 'Zed' Roberton described the Howard Government's controversial decision to buy 24 of the Boeing jets as a capability "gap filler' as "enlightened".

Now five years on he has been taken off his desk job in Canberra as director general aerospace development to lead his Super Hornets to war.

Senior ranks ... Steve Roberton, Mark Binskin and Glen Braz, at the launch of the RAAF's first Super Hornet fighter at the Boeing factory in St Louis USA. Picture: Supplied Source: Supplied

For the personable Roberton the next few days will be the most intense of his long and distinguished career as he waits for the government to give the green light later this week to join air strikes in Iraq. Then he will order his flyers to go to war.

As the air combat team continues to train and coordinate and communicate with other coalition forces from their base at al-Minhad, with the world's highest building shimmering nearby on Dubai's crowded skyline, Roberton told a Defence Force camera that his lethal force was ready to go.

"We have managed to deploy the largest air task group since Vietnam. We have gotten over here within days and we are ready for combat operations."

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