RAAF marks centenary by dropping gendered ‘airman’ term in favour of ‘aviator’

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By Rob Harris

The Royal Australian Air Force has announced it is replacing the term “airmen” with “aviators” as its marks a century since its establishment.

Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld announced the change at a private dinner of past and present RAAF members last week at a 100th anniversary dinner.

The Roulettes helped the Royal Australian Air Force celebrate its 100th anniversary last month with a flyover of Canberra.

The Roulettes helped the Royal Australian Air Force celebrate its 100th anniversary last month with a flyover of Canberra.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

An airman is traditionally a general term which refers to any member of a nation’s air force - male or female - regardless of rank.

Air Marshal Hupfeld said that as the Air Force charted its path forward in its second century he wanted to instil a “stronger sense of identity” among the ranks.

“Of all the work that has been done in developing our Air Force culture, the most challenging dilemma has been fully explaining who we are,” Air Marshal Hupfeld said in a statement on Thursday afternoon. “We understand well enough what we are and what we do - but have never quite managed to successfully articulate WHO we are. We are ALL aviators.”

Women have been eligible for flying roles in the RAAF since 1987, with the first pilots Flight Lieutenant Robyn Williams and Officer Cadet Deborah Hicks who graduated from the same flying course in June 1988.

The RAAF had set a goal to achieve 25 per cent female representation in the Air Force by 2023, which it surpassed last month two years ahead of schedule.

As at February 2019, women represent 22.9 per cent of Air Force personnel, 38 of whom were pilots in the trained permanent Air Force, and 126 where Officer Aviation Cadets are undergoing training.

There has been a strong push in Britain, the United States and Australia during the past five years to change the language used in defence forces such as referring to female pilots and ground crew still as “airmen”, female sailors as “able seamen” or a using term such as “manned” or “unmanned” or “manpower”.

The British airforce has been debating similar changes because it was argued if someone joined the armed forces in a combat role they could either be a soldier, a sailor or an airman. It was argued the latter might deter some female would-be recruits from joining the RAF, because the title implied it was a man’s game.

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