Having qualified as a crew attendant and flown helicopters, Flight Lieutenant Ingrid ‘Ping’ Van Der Vlist was awarded her third aircrew brevet in July when she qualified as an air mobility officer. 

The completion of Air Refuelling Operator training at No. 33 Squadron added to a long list of professional and personal achievements during her 13-year career in Defence.

She joined Air Force as a crew attendant in 2007 after an inspirational engineering and aviation skills course was offered during her senior years at Vincentia High School in her hometown of Jervis Bay, NSW. 

Flight Lieutenant Van Der Vlist said the role gave her the chance to travel all over the globe.

“The crew attendant role is fantastic exposure for any young person who isn’t one hundred per cent sure on what they want to do,” Flight Lieutenant Van Der Vlist said.

“For eight years I loved posting between 33 and 34 Squadron, operating in the VIP space and seeing the KC-30A come into service.” 

In 2015, she decided to make a change and commission into the Army to train as a helicopter pilot.

“My partner Michael and I – who I began dating in 2009 – made an active decision to both shake up our careers,” Flight Lieutenant Van Der Vlist.

“I spent years watching RAAF pilots in the cockpit and knew I wanted to try doing the same.

“We have spent our time bouncing around Australia for training courses and postings ever since.”

After suffering a painful knee injury that impacted her flying, Flight Lieutenant Van Der Vlist was faced with the tough decision of another career change – and she chose Air Force again. 

After taking time to heal her knee, she decided to become an air mobility officer and return to the skies.

I spent years watching RAAF pilots in the cockpit and knew I wanted to try doing the same. 

“It was a homecoming of sorts, seeing so many people I previously worked with at RAAF Base Amberley,” Flight Lieutenant Van Der Vlist said.

“I knew straight away that it was the right fit for me.” 

As an air refuelling operator, Flight Lieutenant Van Der Vlist controls the air-refuelling hoses and boom in the KC-30A multi-role tanker transport during flight – a unique skill held by less than 20 members in Air Force. 

Throughout her career she has also received a Bravery Medal and commendations from the Queensland Ambulance Service and a Bronze Medallion from the Humane Society of Australasia. 

When asked about the stand-out moments in her career, Flight Lieutenant Van Der Vlist humbly recalls the act that led to her being awarded her bravery medal. 

“It was during my time as an Army pilot, on my second-last qualifying flight in the Kiowa helicopter in Oakey, Queensland, when an event happened that made me realise the fragility of life,” Flight Lieutenant Van Der Vlist said.

“My instructor and I were flying with night vision goggles one evening and came across a fire. We diverted to investigate and noticed it was a severe car crash.

“We quickly landed. My instructor radioed it in and I ran up the hill to provide first aid.”

Flight Lieutenant Van Der Vlist found an elderly man in the burning vehicle who was unable to escape.

After dragging him out right before the car exploded, she stayed with him for almost an hour until emergency services arrived.

Flight Lieutenant Van Der Vlist said she just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

“It was my years of training as a crew attendant that enabled me to provide the right first aid. I’m really proud of the skills I’ve developed over my career and the exceptional calibre of people I get to work with,” she said. 

Flight Lieutenant Van Der Vlist and her (now) husband currently enjoy a slower lifestyle – when work commitments allow it – with all their animals on their hobby farm just north of Ipswich Queensland.