Ken Gray is happy to
finally be back in Oshkosh after his initial trip to AirVenture in
It’s mere coincidence that Ken Gray’s
journey into aviation sounds like something out of a TV show. A sailboat
skipper from Australia with an interest in paragliding, Gray had a chance
encounter with a fellow Aussie in Singapore some 20 years ago.
“As soon as aviation came up, he said ‘You’ve
got to go to Oshkosh,’” Gray recalled. “I had no idea, no concept
whatsoever of what he was talking about. It was pre-Internet, so you
couldn’t Google it to look it up.”
But after a little more sailing and
paragliding, Gray heeded the advice.
“I made the pilgrimage to Oshkosh,”
Gray said. “Gateway to Aviation was the theme that year (1992). It
couldn’t have been more apt for a guy coming off the sea looking for
something different. I got here close to opening day with a tent and
sleeping bag. I spent a week seeing and learning anything I could, going
to workshops, going to Theater in the Woods at night, absolutely being
indoctrinated in aviation. I got utterly motivated.”
Immediately after the fly-in, Gray began
flight training, quickly earning his private, commercial and helicopter
ratings. He hit the road, living out of his car, trading labor for flight
time, and doing agricultural spraying in a Robinson R22.
“It was kind of an aviation quest.
America to me is the home and temple of aviation, and this is the
epicenter,” Gray said, back at AirVenture for the first time since his
“I always wanted to come back, but the
timing never worked out.”
One reason Gray’s schedule and AirVenture’s
never meshed is his job. For the last six years Gray has been the sole
helicopter pilot for the megahit reality TV show “Survivor,” which is
noted for its stunning aerial shots.
“[‘Survivor’ producer] Mark Burnett
is a total believer in helicopters,” Gray said. “I cannot believe how
lucky I am.”
The program’s busy production calendar
has taken Gray to China, Africa, Micronesia, and most recently, Central
“Fortuitously, “Survivor” number 21
wrapped last Thursday,” Gray said. “In ten days we’ll start [the
And how does AirVenture 2010 compare to the
memories of his original visit?
“To me it’s remarkably similar,” he
said. “It’s quite often that your memories are rose colored, but I’m
finding it’s just as great.”
One of the highlights of this visit was
flying in a P-51 Mustang out of Fond du Lac airport through the
Commemorative Air Force’s fund-raising flights. Apparently it was an
even greater thrill than helicoptering over the beautiful remote locations
he covers for Survivor.
“It had dual controls, and he let me do
aileron barrel rolls,” Gray said of the Mustang flight. “The pilot
filled out my logbook. I’ve got half an hour of P-51 time in my log, so
basically I can die a happy man.
“And,” Gray added, reflecting back on
his uplifting journey from yacht skipper to PIC (pilot in command), “it’s
all because of Oshkosh.”
a video of "Survivor: Samoa - Behind the Scenes"