Guernsey Girl's Wings

There is no such thing as a usual day for 25-year-old Natalie Grainger. The former Guernsey resident is a Lieutenant in the Royal Navy and has a tour of Afghanistan under her belt, flying the Sea King MK4.

Having returned from Afghanistan, Natalie is currently training on the Merlin MK3, the future helicopter of Commando Helicopter Force (CHF). She is based at RAF Benson in Oxfordshire, where she has shared some of her experiences with Blue Skies.

Natalie has navy blood running through her veins. Her father served 22 years in the Royal Navy as a Petty Officer and her mother spent time in the Merchant Navy.

"I woke up one day and decided that after thinking about the Navy for a while I would phone up. It rolled from there really, I had no idea how I'd have everything needed to be a pilot, but the careers officer made the suggestion and I've not looked back since" said Natalie.

The Lieutenant began her naval career at 19 years old with 10 months' officer training at Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. She learnt to pilot small boats, spent six weeks at sea and was assessed on her leadership skills. During this time she also completed a 13-hour initial flying course in a single engine small plane. Of the eight pilots that joined Natalie in Dartmouth, only she and one other completed the course.

In Dartmouth, Natalie was also lucky enough to be inspected on parade by the Queen.

At RAF Cranwell she completed basic flying training alongside the Army Air Corps and Royal Air Force students, with about 80 hours flying a single engine plane. It was at RAF Shawbury she learnt to fly helicopters, initially on a single engine helicopter. The Lieutenant was selected to fly the Sea King MK4 and moved to RNAS Yeovilton to complete the seven-month helicopter conversion course.

'During the course we went to Scotland to complete mountain flying, deck training onboard HMS Illustrious and spent a week living in the field, where the final assessment was made." In December 2011 Natalie was presented with her wings and awarded the Rolls Royce trophy for best student.

"The day I officially became a 'Junglie' was the best day oif my life, especially having my family and friends there," she said.

"In close second was being part of the RNAS Yeovilton Air Day 2012, with almost 30,000 spectators. I was part of the 'Junglie Role Demo' involving eight Sea Kings, a Lynx, Apache, Merlin MK1, two Hawks, Royal Marines on the ground and big explosions.

In close third was being part of the formation that took the Olympic torch into the Tower of London. I drew the short straw, so was unfortunately in the reserve aircraft that wasn't called upon, but we were there and ready to go if required."

In January 2012, after joining 846 Naval Air Squadron at Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton, Natalie was sent to Norway to complete her arctic training. Initially this involved completing the cold weather survival course, five days surviving outdoor temperatures between -20 and -30 degrees.

"Norway was the most challenging environment I've ever flown in. The weather is so changeable, one minute it's fine the next you're in the middle of a snowstorm and have to land, when you can't see 10 metres in front of the aircraft. 'In California I completed my desert environmental training, a pre-requisite before being cleared to fly in Afghanistan. We spent six weeks flying in temperatures of 40 degrees and above. Landing in a dust cloud is extremely challenging and the correct technique must be mastered and practised"

Last December, Natalie was able to land in her beloved Guernsey during a routine training sortie.

"Although we didn't have time to shut down, I jumped out to see my parents before shooting off again. It was such an amazing day. I posted on Facebook for people to look out for me and many waved as we landed and took off. Safe to say I didn't need to use a map to find my way to the airport." Natalie was deployed to Afghanistan from January to April 2013. "I can't say too much about my time there, but I'm glad I got to go and do my bit. Spending the last four years in training I wanted to go there and say that I did something for those injured or who had lost their lives out there."

Now back in the UK at RAF Benson, Oxfordshire, Natalie is concentrating on her training on the Merlin MK3.

"I like to think my family are proud of me, I think they found it hard when I was in Afghanistan, but we spoke once a week and they sent parcels with Guernsey goodies, even a Guernsey Gâche, which went down very well."