Marcus Grey tucks into his celebration cake (credit: Matt Painter)
High Fliers

‘Master Air Pilot’ Marcus Grey celebrates 40 years with MAF

30th May 2024

Marcus Grey tucks into his celebration cake (credit: Matt Painter)

Marcus Grey tucks into his celebratory cake (credit: Matt Painter)

Chief flight instructor Marcus Grey, who is also MAF’s chief pilot in Mareeba and Timor-Leste, has clocked up more than 17,000 flight hours around the globe. As one of MAF’s most experienced and highly qualified pilots of all time, Marcus will be honoured as ‘Master Air Pilot’ by the ‘Honourable Company of Air Pilots’ in a London ceremony in October. Marcus shares his incredible journey

In the last twenty years, MAF’s veteran pilot / instructor / examiner Marcus Grey has passed over 200 pilots – pinning epaulettes onto shoulders at MAF’s Flight Training Centre in Australia. Now it’s his turn to be recognised!

In Marcus’ 40th year with MAF – known as ‘Operation Greymaster’ – MAF secretly applied for Marcus to be globally recognised by the Honourable Company of Air Pilots (HCAP).

The HCAP is a livery company in the City of London, which commends excellence within the aviation industry. After months of planning, the HCAP announced it would formally award Marcus the rare honour of ‘Master Air Pilot’ in their ceremony in October.

Marcus will travel from Australia to the UK to receive the internationally acclaimed award at London’s prestigious HCAP’s Trophies and Awards Banquet in the capital’s Guildhall.

Colleagues congratulate Marcus on his remarkable achievement (credit: Janne Rytkonen)

Colleagues congratulate Marcus on his remarkable achievement (credit: Janne Rytkonen)

‘Operation Greymaster’ wouldn’t have been complete without celebratory cake (credit: Janne Rytkonen)

‘Operation Greymaster’ celebrates reveal with customary cake (credit: Janne Rytkonen)

The MAF Mareeba team threw a surprise party to break the news to their much-loved colleague and friend.

MAF Int’s COO Norm Baker presents the ‘Master Air Pilot’ certificate & a bow tie! (credit: Janne Rytkonen)

MAF Int’s COO Norm Baker presents Marcus’ certificate & bow tie! (credit: J. Rytkonen)

Marcus proudly holds his framed ‘Master Air Pilot’ certificate (credit: Janne Rytkonen)

Marcus proudly holds his framed ‘Master Air Pilot’ certificate (credit: Janne Rytkonen)

40 years with MAF
17,000+ hours of flying
6,200 hours as a flight instructor & examiner

‘Master Air Pilot’ Marcus Grey

Overcoming a childhood setback

Marcus knew at the age of five – the same year he became a Christian – that he wanted to become a pilot:

‘I was in Sunday School when I heard God speak to me – it was totally out of the blue. He said, “I want you to be a pilot for me – be a pilot for Jesus.”

‘Every decision I made from that time on – right through primary school, high school and university was made with the intention of becoming a pilot for Jesus. I didn’t know what that meant when I heard it. I just knew what a pilot was and that I wanted to serve Jesus.’

However, at the age of ten, Marcus was playing with his brother when he managed to get a biro stuck in his left eye. Doctors at Melbourne’s Royal Victoria Eye & Ear Hospital confirmed that his iris had been penetrated, which required immediate surgery:

‘The doctor looked at my eye and said, “I can give you a 50/50 chance of ever seeing out of that left eye again” but I said, “I want to be a pilot.” He said, “It’s not going to happen!”

‘That very same day, the best microsurgeon / eye specialist in the Southern Hemisphere happened to visit to the hospital. My doctor called him in and he took a look. He said, “Yes, I can do that.” Thanks to many prayers by a lot of people, by the end of the day I was in a hospital bed with a patch over my eye.

‘Now I’ve actually got better vision in the left eye than I do in my right! God did a miracle so that I could keep preparing to be a pilot!’

MAF Mareeba team – Marcus Grey (centre) & Julie Grey (far left) (credit: Daniel Scott Groneberg)

MAF Mareeba team – Marcus Grey (CEN) & Julie Grey (L) (credit: Daniel Scott Groneberg)

When love and mission collide

At the age of 12, Marcus’ youth group went to a rally where Max Myers – MAF Australia’s then CEO – was speaking. He talked about giving your life to full-time missionary service. Marcus was sold and bravely went to the front to talk to Max.

Marcus explained what God had planned for him and Max encouraged him to keep going, keep studying and to keep in contact with MAF, which Marcus did:

‘From then on, I talked to the MAF office in Melbourne. I went through high school and concentrated on maths, science and physics so that I could better prepare for pilot training.’

At around the same time, he met his future wife Julie at youth group.

Marcus applied to study aeronautical engineering at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

During university, Marcus and Julie’s relationship deepened and they decided to get married during his third year. Marcus graduated with a diploma.

Julie had always wanted to become a missionary too, but was unsure what route she should take. Through MAF, both their prayers would eventually be answered, but God’s timing was different to theirs.

God’s perfect timing

Marcus had it all mapped out in his head, but God had other plans:

‘When I graduated, I thought I’d get an engineering job with lots of money so I’d be able to learn to fly and be with MAF, but God said, “Wait!” I couldn’t get an engineering job anywhere. It was the worst year for engineering graduates, so I just took whatever job I could get.

‘He got me a job in hardware retail where I learned customer service and how to serve. Then he got me a job as a delivery driver, taking printing supplies all over Melbourne, so I learned how to keep a schedule, manage a machine and drive while thinking about other things.

‘So, in the three years after graduating, I learnt all sorts of skills that I wouldn’t have learned in an engineering job. When the time was right, I got a job with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) as a junior engineer at Essendon Airport in Melbourne.

‘A new flying school started up, so as I was earning a good wage, I was able to spend a few dollars on flying lessons. They had this system where, if you paid upfront – a few thousand dollars – you got credit for flying hours down the track. We put down a few thousand dollars from our savings, but the company went bust and took all our money.

‘Our church managed to organise an interest-free loan to get me through that stage of flying lessons. That helped me almost reach the Commercial Pilot Licence (CPL) stage.
When I got closer to the CPL, MAF said it would be good to do some training with them at Ballarat in Australia. 

‘Towards the end of 1983, I went up to Ballarat every weekend for a few months. Then I did my CPL test at Essendon Airport with CASA in the MAF training plane.

In 1984, Marcus began serving with MAF in Arnhem Land.

Between 1986 and 1996, he served in Papua New Guinea where Marcus had a health scare:

‘I had to do my first PNG pilot’s medical in Mount Hagen before moving to Goroka. The local Civil Aviation doctor saw blood in my urine and thought that I had cancer of some sort. He advised me to go back to Australia for tests. It was a bit of a bombshell!

‘MAF leadership put us onto a missionary surgeon who ran Goroka Hospital. He was also a consultant on the aviation medical board and had trained CASA’s chief aviation medical officer in PNG. We got a second opinion.

‘He checked me over and said there was nothing wrong with me! He spoke to his friend and got it all cleared up within a few weeks. What an amazing blessing from God!’

In 1996, Marcus and Julie returned to Ballarat where Marcus trained as a flight instructor.

Marcus has been a MAF flight instructor for 21 years (credit: Janne Rytkonen)

Marcus has been a MAF flight instructor for 21 years (credit: Janne Rytkonen)

In 2002, they moved to Coldstream near Melbourne where Marcus became chief flying instructor.

In 2007, MAF launched its operations in Timor-Leste where Marcus became the new programme’s chief pilot. He helped set up the programme by ferrying one of MAF’s GA8 aircraft from Gove in Arnhem Land to Timor-Leste’s capital, Dili.

Marcus carried out many of Timor-Leste’s first survey flights to existing airstrips. He also learned how to operate in-country within the framework of the UN and Australian Army.

In 2015, MAF’s Flight Training Centre was relocated to Mareeba Airport in northern Queensland, which Marcus and Julie helped to set up. Julie was the school’s Administrative Assistant until 2019.

‘I see flying as who it’s going to help’

In 40 years with MAF, Marcus’ flights have ranged from delivering tonnes of essential supplies and transporting passengers, to fighting famine on the frontline and carrying out hundreds of medevacs.

Some of his flights have been very dramatic, like when a baby was born mid-flight over Arnhem Land on the way to Gove.

Another memorable flight saw Marcus transfer a young girl bitten by a death adder to Goroka Hospital in what was PNG’s only ever night medevac. In the absence of runway lights at Goroka Airstrip, Marcus and the team had to think creatively:

‘She was already starting to get paralysis from the venom. The only place that had anti-venin that would save the girl’s life was at Goroka Hospital. Lae Hospital was closer, and its airstrip had runway lights, but they didn’t have any antivenom.

‘We prayed and decided to do a night landing at Goroka. MAF Goroka staff went to other airport operators and lined the airstrip with a whole bunch of four-wheel drives with their headlights on full-beam trained on the airstrip.

‘The sky was clear. I came in and landed in the headlights of the cars. They loaded the little girl into the ambulance. The doctor gave her a shot of antivenin at the airport and they took her to hospital. I took her home a week later, fully recovered. She wouldn’t have made it through the night if we had waited for first light.’

A brief note in Marcus’ logbook simply reads, ‘Girl survived.’

Marcus’ 11 logbooks on display at MAF Mareeba (credit: Janne Rytkonen)

Marcus’ 11 logbooks on display at MAF Mareeba (credit: Janne Rytkonen)

Marcus with his very first logbook dated 1984 (credit: Janne Rytkonen)

Marcus with his very first logbook dated 1984 (credit: Janne Rytkonen)

This logbook is one of eleven documenting over 17,000 hours of flying in Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, Cambodia, Australia and Africa.

After all those hours, Marcus still enjoys flying:

‘The art of flying and the science of flying are intertwined. Flying to me is a technical enjoyment – as I learn more and more, I get to appreciate it more and more.’

Marcus is also motivated by the objective of that day’s mission:

‘I really enjoy flying because of what it achieves. I never think of it as carrying cargo or just timber or just roofing sheets. I see it as who it’s going to help. If it’s a school, then the kids are going to learn.’

‘Give every day to God and learn to be resilient’

Marcus has trained aspiring MAF pilots who have gone on to serve the world’s most isolated people. To this day, he brings a wealth of experience to the training, development and mentoring of student pilots.

Marcus awards Abigail Duff her epaulettes for passing her Private Pilot License (credit: Erwin Jungen)

Marcus passes Abigail Duff on her Private Pilot Licence (credit: Erwin Jungen)

Marcus congratulates Tim Berger for passing his first solo flight (credit: Erwin Jungen)

Marcus congratulates Tim Berger for passing his first solo flight (credit: Erwin Jungen)

Marcus’ secret to his success? Despite the accolades during his long career, it’s his clear sense of God’s calling that carries him through the ordinary or challenging days that are occasionally punctuated by exciting and dramatic flights:

When you’re doing God’s work, what gets you through difficult times is remembering the calling God gave you, and how faithful He has been in the past to help, strengthen, guide and provide. He’s always given me the strength and the ability to do whatever I’ve done.

‘Even in a fantastic job like bringing help, hope and healing to remote people, it’s not always going to be exciting, fulfilling or fun, so you’ve got to learn to be resilient.

‘Take each day as it comes – give it to God and ask Him to bring out what He wants you to achieve that day. You need to be satisfied with that at the end of the day.

‘We’re His ambassador doing that job. If you don’t have a sense that God will faithfully carry you through your life and service, then you won’t get through the hard times. That’s the basis of my service.’  

‘Master Air Pilot’ Marcus Grey

‘Take each day as it comes!’ says Master Air Pilot, Marcus Grey (credit: Katherine Williams)

‘Remember your calling!’ says Master Air Pilot, Marcus Grey (credit: Katherine Williams)