The Central Flying School formed its first official aerobatic team in 1962, the Red Sales, using De Haviland Vampire jet fighters, but lapsed before reforming for a short time as the Telstars in 1962, then as the Telstars again for just two months in 1968, this time flying the Macchi MB-326 jet trainer.
In 1970, the Roulettes were formed to celebrate the RAAF's 50th aniversary, and have been a permanent team ever since. Initially, they were equipped with four Macchis, growing to five aircraft in 1974 and seven in 1981 before cost-cutting saw the team reduced to five again in 1982.
Towards the end of the 1980s, the Roulettes flying hours had to be reduced as the RAAF MB-326 fleet developed premature metal fatigue problems and a replacement aircrat type was investigated. In 1989, with the new Pilatus PC-9 trainers starting to arrive and MB-326 airframe hours severly limited, the Roulettes flew just a single pair of Macchis.
The Roulettes switched over to the new type in late 1989, and arrived at the composition they have used ever since: six PC-9s plus a spare. They are painted in the bold red, white and blue scheme that is the Roulettes' trademark. The RAAF has since adopted this scheme for all its PC-9 trainers, which allows an aircraft to be swapped into or out of the team to equalise fleet airframe hours by just painting or painting out the large "R" symbol on the tail.
There are seven Roulettes at any given time, and gaining appointment to the team is a rare distinction. All seven members are senior flying instructors. From time to time, the CO of an RAAF operational squadron recommends a pilot for instructor duties with either the Basic Flying Training School at Tamworth, NSW or at 2 Flying Training School at Pearce, WA. Upon progression through several levels of instructor categorisation, some of these pilots are then selected for duty at the Central Flying School, where they train flying instructors.
From among the 21 CFS senior instructors, the CFS commanding officer and the Roulette leader then offer selected individuals a chance to try out for the Roulettes. The team is organised in 'seasons', which last six months; most members serve on the team for three seasons before moving on to other duties.
A pilot begins with three months of intensive formation aerobatic training, starting with relatively simple maneuvers (such as loops and rolls in echelon or line astern) performed at altitude, and progressing through more complex and demanding ones (such as corkscrews, ripple rolls and rollbacks, close formation line abrest aerobatics (which requires constant fine attention to power and trim settings), and eventually working up to the full six-aircraft display routines. Only when a routine is well-practiced at altitude is it brought down in gradual steps to the minimum safe level of 500 feet.
First season pilots join as Roulettes 2, 3 or 4; Roulettes 5 and 6 who fly some of the most difficult maneuvers have at least one season's experience; Roulette 1 is the team leader; and Roulette 7 flies the spare aircraft, is responsible for public relations, and often provides commentary at flying displays.
The Roulettes have had two accidents over the years: in 1983 two Macchis collided during practice near Sale and both pilots were killed. In 1988 a mid-air collision saw Roulette 4 eject safely and Roulette 1 perform a gear-up landing.
The Roulettes always fly in formation, even on long transits to interstate airshows. In poor visibility, they close up to maintain visual contact, only executing a separation drill when visibility drops below two metres.
The PC-9 is regarded as an easy aircraft to fly - it has ample power and excellent maneuverability - but a difficult one for precise formation flying: it needs large trim adjustments to compensate for power and airspeed changes, and its low wing-loading makes it highly responsive to turbulance. In the words of one Roulette, "it's not really a finesse machine". Despite the entry of a third training aircraft type to supplement the PAC CT/4 and the PC-9, the BAe Hawk lead-in fighter, there are no current plans to switch the Roulettes' equipment.