J. David Jones, an accomplished aerial coordinator, second-unit director and stunt pilot, died July 14 of complications from lung cancer at his home in Redway. He was 61.
Born and raised in Pensacola, Fla., Jones began flying lessons at the age of 14. After graduating from the U. of Florida, he joined the Marine Corps as a lieutenant and earned his wings as a helicopter pilot from the Naval Flight School in only one year.
Following a multitude of flying jobs in Central America and the United States, Jones made his debut in motion pictures in the late 1950s working on the TV series “Whirlybirds.”
In Hollywood, Jones joined the first helicopter cinematography crew that specialized in helicopter aerial photography and stunt flying.
He became one of a handful of pilots who were instrumental in commercializing the use of helicopters for the entertainment business. Jones is credited with influencing the modern era of dynamic aerial cinematography by combining photography from stabilized camera platforms with special effects, stunts and model miniatures.
His career highlights include acting as aerial coordinator for the “Flight of the Valkyries” sequence in “Apocalypse Now” as well as for aerial and stunt work on numerous features including “Capricorn One,” “The Final Countdown,” “The Graduate” and “Tora! Tora! Tora!”
Recent credits include “Field of Dreams,” “Twister,” “Speed 2: Cruise Control” and “Con Air,” his final project.
Over the course of his career, Jones worked on over 400 films, TV series and related projects, as well as over 1,000 commercials and documentaries.
In 1985 he received the Hollywood Stuntman Award for best aerial stunt for his performance on an episode of “Airwolf.” He subsequently received the first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award for Mobile Camera Platform Operator from the Society of Operating Cameramen.
Jones is survived by his wife, Anjali, two sons, a daughter, seven grandchildren, his mother, a sister and two brothers.