As we come to the close of 2018, the major events that occurred during this quarter include another huge cross-country in a gyroplane and another death of a close friend in aviation.
In October, the Gyroplane Guy, Chris Lord, asked if I would be willing to ferry his ELA 07 Cougar gyroplane to Sebring from his home in Galena, IL. I agreed and I knew that as Winter was approaching, it would be cold, I didn’t expect this cold! I caught an airline flight to Dubuque, Iowa and stayed the night with the Lord family catching up. The next morning, bright and early, and 30 degrees! I took off in an OPEN COCKPIT gyroplane headed for Florida. I had on several layers of clothing, hand warmers shoved in my gloves and socks and a seat warmer plugged into the 12 volt outlet. I wasn’t cold but I couldn’t move either. The biggest event of the first day wasn’t the weather, but the fact that I had a 35 mph headwind the whole way! It took forever to get to Mexico, MO from Galena.
If you have been reading my posts, you would know that Zenith Aircraft is located in Mexico, MO; the makers of the Zenith 750 series kit bushplane. I stopped there to get a flight in the 750 and to tour the factory. In only a God-ordained fashion, Chuck McConkey from Harvest Aviation was travelling to Ohio from Arizona and was going to be in Mexico on the same day! We met at the Zenith factory and both flew in the 750 to see the full-capabilities of this micro-aviation kit plane. We both came away very impressed and spoke with Sebastian Heintz (President of Zenith) at length about our ministries. Some very exciting things are in the works so stay tuned!
After a restful night of sleep in Mexico, I departed the next morning for Memphis. Dennis Long of Aeroprakt USA based his US distributorship of Aeroprakt light-sport aircraft at a grass-strip just outside of Memphis. The weather had warmed up to a balmy 55 degrees when I arrive outside Memphis. Dennis took me for demonstration rides in the Aeroprakt A22 and A32 airplanes. They are as impressive as the Zenith 750 in performance! However, they are not kit-planes but imported fully built light sport airplanes. Cost is higher, but no building required.
I stayed the night with Dennis as my host and left the following morning of my longest leg; Memphis, TN to Keystone Height, FL. Hurricane Michael had just hit the Gulf Coast and I knew it would be hard to stop for fuel or rest in the disaster area, so I just decided to push all the way to Keystone Heights and the College of Missionary Aviation. When I arrived at Keystone Heights, I was surprised to find an aerobatics competition occurring at the airport. I enjoyed watching the competition with several students and families from the college and was able to give gyroplane demo rides to a College student and his daughter.
The afternoon of the Friday, after leaving Galena on Tuesday, I flew the last 2 hour leg to Sebring. The temperature at Sebring was 90 degrees after being 30 in Galena! Talk about shedding clothes on this trip! I met Jeff (another gyroplane instructor) and left the Cougar in his possession. Long trip but really memorable!
Unfortunately, tragedy would hit the next week or so. I was back in North Carolina and Chris Lord had gone down to Sebring to get ready for the light-sport showcase in DeLand, FL. He was flying an Autogyro Cavalon when a Mayday call was heard on the radio and he struck a power line and mobile home just west of Highway 27 in Sebring. He and another passenger were killed instantly. We may never know what fully happened but no one had more experience in modern gyroplanes than Chris Lord; it was NOT pilot error.
I was asked by his wife, Crissa, to speak at his Celebration of Life service two weeks later back in Galena. It was a time for celebration and grief. Chris impacted peoples’ lives all across the globe. I also found out how much he had been telling my story of mission aviation; many people I had never met came up to me to exchange contact information and to receive more information regarding mission aviation and spreading the Gospel through aviation. Chris loved snow and snow skiing and as was fitting, it snowed the night before the service.
After this event, and again as I write this newsletter post, the question arises of “is it worth it?” I have lost two very close friends in less than a year to aircraft crashes (Steve and Chris). I do not want to subject my family to the pain that the Merritt and Lord family have experienced and are experiencing. As I have spoken to my wife and to others in ministry, I come to the conclusion that if this was just a hobby, than I should quit now. However, delivering the Gospel is more important than our life on this earth. There have been millions of examples of that throughout world history. I (and my family and others) have been given a vision for delivering the Gospel through the means of aviation and I think that Steve and Chris would be the first to say, “Don’t you dare stop now just because of this.” Therefore, we press on.
Needless to say, things will change (they always do). Exciting prospects were in process prior to this tragedy and they are moving forward on several fronts. I look forward to sharing those with you early next year.