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JERRY GRAYSON was a gun search and res­cue pi­lot in the Royal Navy who turned his flying skills into one of the most re­mark­able ca­reers. Now he is also a best-sell­ing au­thor, draw­ing on his in­cred­i­ble life ex­pe­ri­ences dur­ing some of his­tory’s most fa­mous – and in­fa­mous – chap­ters. His books have given him the chance to pause for breath in his hec­tic ca­reer and, as he says, “it is an in­ter­est­ing ex­er­cise to dis­cover for your­self if you have learnt life well”.

WHEN Jerry Grayson came out of the Royal Navy he was 25 years old, a he­li­copter pi­lot and an eight-year vet­eran of the Fleet Air Arm.

The youngest pi­lot to serve in the RN at 25 he was also its most dec­o­rated peace­time pi­lot in the his­tory of the ser­vice – among awards he was pre­sented with the Air Force Cross by the Queen and re­ceived the Mar­itime Medal of Hon­our (1st class) for his res­cue work on a sink­ing Greek ship.

He was also a key pi­lot dur­ing the no­to­ri­ous Fast­net race in 1979 – Bri­tain’s ver­sion of the Syd­ney-Ho­bart – in which 300 boats started, only 85 fin­ished and the res­cue crews pulled 135 sailors from the rag­ing sea.

Fif­teen sailors still drowned in the once-in-a-life­time storm.

Jerry’s life has been a pro­fes­sional adrenalin rush – af­ter the first Gulf War when Sad­dam’s re­treat­ing army set fire to Kuwait’s oil­fields he was hired to fly through the soar­ing flames for a Ger­man film di­rec­tor look­ing for an “other world” set­ting.

He has res­cued a wounded fighter pi­lot who had ditched at sea and a crit­i­cally ill crew­man from the rolling deck of a nu­clear-armed sub­ma­rine that was play­ing a cat-and-mouse game with the Soviet navy.

But three years af­ter he left the ser­vice the shoot­ing and the res­cu­ing be­came bru­tally real with the Falk­lands War be­tween Great Bri­tain and Ar­gentina.

Even to­day you can sense how dis­con­nected he felt when the peo­ple he had served with went to war while he stayed at home.

“It felt strange, I had stayed at home and they went into a war zone, I could see it on TV but that was as close as I got,” Jerry said.

“Yes, we did a lot of search and res­cue but the mil­i­tary train for a pur­pose and that was it,” he said.

In 2500 hours of flying with the RN, Jerry and his crew­mates saved more than 70 lives on 120 res­cue mis­sions.

But wars and storms aside Jerry Grayson has turned those early years with the navy into an in­cred­i­ble ca­reer and his ad­ven­tures didn’t stop when he left the navy.

He has set up Heli­films, a pro­duc­tion com­pany spe­cial­is­ing in footage shot from he­li­copters.

And his com­pany was in big de­mand – work­ing on the sets of films such as Black Hawk Down, An In­con­ve­nient Truth and the James Bond film A View to A Kill.

“First and fore­most I joined the Navy at 17 to fly chop­pers but the next step to films was some­thing that came to me in my last six months,” Jerry said.

“At that time the RN had given a BBC crew to­tal ac­cess on board for six months to pro­duce a sort of fly-on-the­wall documentary about life at sea,” he said.

“When we were not busy res­cu­ing I was busy learn­ing how to fly for the cam­era, which is rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent to flying for real.

“I was see­ing up close and per­sonal how scenes were put to­gether, what the chop­per had to do to be in the right place at the right time and with the most im­pact.

“In real work you are go­ing straight at a res­cue scene but in a movie you have to come at it so the viewer can see more of you and what you are do­ing, you sort of work side­ways.”

His movie work drew the at­ten­tion of other me­dia – Jerry worked on the aerial cover­age of the Athens Olympics and Mel­bourne Com­mon­wealth Games and then flew over the af­ter­math of Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina.

The flight over Kuwait’s burn­ing oil­fields was hardly what your ev­ery­day worker gets to do – di­rec­tor Werner Her­zog’s Lessons of Dark­ness was a story from the per­spec­tive of an al­most alien ob­server, the film was shot in such a way as to em­pha­sise the ter­rain's cat­a­clysmic strange­ness.

He has worked on mu­sic videos with every­body from Paul McCart­ney to John Den­ver, and hun­dreds of cin­ema and TV com­mer­cials. Jerry has filmed from the air at the North Pole to the scorch­ing Mid­dle East and across the US and suc­cess­fully worked with di­rec­tors such as Ri­d­ley Scott and Lord Richard At­ten­bor­ough.

As Jerry puts it, “flying for the movies is a dif­fer­ent sort of buzz – as a res­cue pi­lot when you have a bad day some­one dies, as a movie pi­lot if you have a bad scene you sim­ply do it again”.

“But I have en­joyed all my flying im­mensely, it is some­thing you are never tired of do­ing and search and res­cue is so rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent to ev­ery other type of flying.

“Of course technology has changed a lot of search and res­cue these days – back when I was do­ing it you found life rafts and sink­ing ships and downed pi­lots with a pa­per map spread across your knees, a lot of in­stinct and a big slice of luck.

“Now it’s all GPS and technology that does make things so much safer and eas­ier.

“The thing about it is you never stop learn­ing.”

And like ev­ery other in­dus­try Jerry’s film com­pany is be­com­ing a vic­tim of progress – where peo­ple once had to use he­li­copters for aerial shoot­ing they can now use drones.

“They are smaller, can fly lower with­out the tur­bu­lence is­sues and are much, much cheaper to run,” Jerry said.

“But what we have been find­ing is that peo­ple know all the skills to sim­ply fly a drone but have ab­so­lutely no idea how to use them cor­rectly for set­ting up shots – so we have now branched out to teach­ing in that area,” he said.

So what is the con­nec­tion be­tween a gun pi­lot whose work­place used to be the flight deck of an air­craft car­rier, or some of the world’s most dan­ger­ous set­tings and the quiet lit­tle town of Mia Mia, where he now lives with wife Sara.

“It’s a funny story, we had come to a wed­ding in Sey­mour and then were driv­ing around the area when we saw this block in Mia Mia for sale and we im­me­di­ately fell in love with it,” Jerry laughed.

“It’s a long way from the UK and Hol­ly­wood but it is a pretty spe­cial place and we just love it here,” he said.

“And if we are go­ing to move more into teach­ing the next gen­er­a­tion of ‘pi­lots’ on how to cre­ate im­ages from their drones – that they can do more than just take a selfie from the sky – we couldn’t think of a place we would rather be.”

Jerry de­scribes him­self as an or­di­nary bloke who’s had an ex­tra­or­di­nary ca­reer.

For­get the ‘had’ be­cause Jerry is still liv­ing the dream.

If any McIvor Times read­ers pur­chase Jerry’s lat­est book he would be happy for them to pri­vate mes­sage him via this Face­book link, he’ll meet them in Heath­cote and sign copies of the book for them.


‘‘ As a res­cue pi­lot when you have a bad day some­one dies, as a movie pi­lot if you have a bad scene you sim­ply do it again.’’

Jerry Grayson amid some of the af­ter­math from Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina. The hur­ri­cane which struck New Or­leans in Louisiana in Au­gust 2005 killed 1245 peo­ple and left bil­lions of dol­lars of dam­age in its wake.

Jerry Grayson at the con­trols of his he­li­copter dur­ing his ser­vice with the Royal Navy.

Jerry Grayson (left) on deck with his RN he­li­copter and (right) the cover of his new book.

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