Space technology such as Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and satellite imagery is critical in an emergency. During the 2020 bushfires, these systems helped Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) pilots deliver their emergency response efficiently.
But before they can jump in the real plane and carry out a mission, they need to practice on ground-based training facilities like an aircraft simulator. When an aircraft is upgraded, pilot training must change to incorporate those upgrades too, before they take off for real. “It’s really important to the pilots that the training services are in place in the simulators before the fleet is upgraded and operating” Renee Wootton says. “This is so the pilots know how to use the real aircraft in flight once the upgrade is applied.”
Renee Wootton is an aerospace engineer and pilot who works on some of these simulators. As a project engineer for CAE, Renee is working on upgrading the simulator for a military aircraft called the C-130J Super Hercules and KC-30A Multi-Tanker.
“It’s a customer-facing role, so I answer a lot of technical queries,” says Renee. “I also work with specialists on each of the systems that we’re upgrading, and make sure they’re on track to deliver to our milestones.”
Renee’s career in aviation began at the age of 15, when she joined the Air Force Cadets. “I had just moved to a new town and was looking to make new friends,” she says. “I went along to their induction session and fell in love with learning about aircraft.”
As a cadet, Renee got to take planes apart and put them back together. She enjoyed it so much that she completed a Certificate II in Aeroskills (Mechanical) during her HSC. Then she set her sights on studying aerospace engineering.
Renee’s Indigenous background (she is a proud Tharawal woman) allowed her to pursue a paid internship with Qantas throughout her degree. The internship was arranged by CareerTrackers, a non-profit organisation that creates industry pathways for Indigenous students.
So when Renee completed her degree in 2016, she had already been interning at Qantas for four years. In that time, Renee worked on a number of research projects as well as working in an analyst role and in flight operations. She went on to work for the airline until she was stood down during the pandemic in 2020.
Renee also started her pilot training in 2018, and is now qualified to fly a small plane. She is still working towards the licence that will allow her to fly for an airline. And after that, she has an even bigger goal – to become an astronaut.
“Becoming a pilot was something I wanted to achieve my whole life,” she says. “To become an astronaut, I need to do a master’s in a scientific field and learn Russian. I’m planning to do that in the next couple of years. In the meantime, I’m waiting for the right opportunity to come along in Australia’s space sector.”
- Renee joined the Air Force Cadets at the age of 15 and started learning all about the aviation industry.
- During her HSC, she completed a Certificate II in Aero Skills (Mechanical).
- Renee applied to study Aerospace Engineering at the University of New South Wales, but her ATAR wasn’t quite high enough. Instead, she followed an alternative pathway into the degree by first completing a Diploma of Science, Engineering and Technology.
- After one year Renee graduated from the diploma and transferred into the Bachelor of Engineering (Aerospace). She completed the degree in 2016 and graduated with honours.
- Throughout her time at university, Renee interned at Qantas through the CareerTrackers program. She worked across engine and aircraft maintenance and flight planning optimisation.
- Renee spent two years in the Qantas Graduate Program before moving into a Senior Analyst role for the airline’s loyalty program.
- In 2018, Renee took a six-month career break from Qantas to work at her friend’s technology start-up, Kintell. Here, Renee supported the development of an online knowledge marketplace which has been very successful.
- Then in 2019, Renee returned to Qantas as a Fleet Technical Specialist working on the Dash-8 Fleet for QantasLink as a Performance Engineer and Operations Specialist.
- Renee started working towards her pilot’s licence in 2018. She graduated with a Graduate Diploma in Flying in 2020, achieving her commercial pilot licence and multi-engine instrument rating.
- She also started working at CAE in 2020, as a Project Engineer on the C-130 J Super Hercules flight simulator upgrade.
- Renee was named one of the Top 30 Indigenous Leaders of NSW by the Governor of NSW in 2018. She was also a finalist of the NSW/ACT Young Achiever Awards (Aboriginal Education Award) in 2017.
- Renee is also a 2021-22 Superstar of STEM, and is passionate about giving back to the STEM community.