This newsletter is getting written while the world lives in the Twilight Zone! The coronavirus has shut down everything that we know and flying has come to a standstill. Unfortunately, we had to cancel our trip back to North Carolina for Liani to attend some work meetings, to visit friends and for me to preach and give updates to Union Chapel Baptist Church. Bensen Days and Sun N’ Fun have both been delayed, and in all probability, will be cancelled for this year. Still, we have some things to report.
This is picture of the hangar at Lockwood. I have been flying a lot of AirCam on amphibious floats and training customers for their Multi-Engine Sea rating. I am quickly becoming known as the “Preacher/Pilot” here in Sebring, as well. So much so, that one of our vendors asked me to fly with a MK (missionary kid). “William” was staying here in Sebring with his grandparents and lives with his full-time missionary parents in Benin, in Africa. He told our vendor that he wanted to be a missionary pilot as a career and this vendor immediately called and asked if I would take him for a flight. Of course I said “yes” and we flew an hour in the Tecnam. William did great and left with a huge smile on his face.
Also, in January, I was approached by John Rousch, who administers the High School Aerospace program at the Sebring Airport about teaching ground school to high school students interested in pursuing their Private Pilot Rating. I spoke about this program in the last newsletter. I agreed to teach the ground school, and outside of Spring Break and coronavirus break, we have met every week this semester. The kids are taking their studies seriously and look forward to beginning flight training.
I have also been spending time at Harvest working on the finances. It has been a challenge fitting it all in, but doable. We were working really hard for Bensen Days and Sun N’ Fun and are disappointed that they are postponed but we keep pressing on.
Michael has started volunteering with the community theater and is helping with lights. Marissa started playing volleyball for the school and is still on the travel softball team. Unfortunately, both of these activities are on coronavirus hold as well.
It will be interesting to come back and read this newsletter when the virus episode has passed. Have a great Spring and welcome back the warm weather to you guys that get Winter. It’s been warm the whole time here in Florida!
Merry Christmas! As we finish 2019, there is a lot to reflect on from this past year! We like to say that God opens and closes doors but sometimes I feel more like a pinball than going through open doors! Since moving to Sebring on September 12, we have experienced many new, exciting and even, terrifying (but in a good way) happenings.
I mentioned in our previous newsletter that since relocating to Sebring, I contracted with Lockwood Aviation to instruct in the AirCam. This aircraft was designed for National Geographic to be a safe, stable open air aircraft for flying low and slow and filming very remote locations. It is based on a predecessor aircraft, known as the Drifter. Ironically, we at Harvest are working with two missionaries who are taking Drifters to the Peruvian wilderness for mission work. See how God pinballs you around! In order to instruct in the AirCam I had more training to do, including Multi-Engine Instructor and Seaplane ratings. I also attended the Seaplane Pilots Association Convention in New Orleans and got to experience “egress” training.
In this training, you latch yourself by seatbelt into an aircraft seat in a mock cockpit. This cockpit is then lowered under water, rotated upside down, where you are then expected to escape! This mimics an airplane capsizing in the water. Once the dunk tank stops moving, GET OUT! The key to learn, though, is to not panic, take your time and think! However, when gravity and eyesight are taken away from you, it is hard not to be uneasy to say the least.
Also, I had to add the Seaplane ratings. I added the Single-Engine Seaplane rating in a Piper Cub and the Mult-Engine Seaplane rating in the AirCam. Now I am able to instruct in Seaplanes, as well. This will be a great asset for missionary aviation, and too be frank, one that I had not expected.
Michael and I also joined the local EAA Chapter. EAA represents experimental aviation and is the organization that hosts and sponsors AirVenture (Oshkosh). This local chapter has a pristine hangar and build center and hosts high school classes in aerospace education. Twice a week, 30 plus high school students attend classes and learn hands-on by actually building an AirCam. The administrator of this class has asked to partner with Harvest Aviation in allowing the students to assist in building mission aircraft! Once again, it is amazing to see God put things in place!
On the home front, Michael starts dual enrollment at South Florida State College this Spring! Marissa has joined a travel softball team as a pitcher/infielder and softball is a year-round sport in Florida! Liani has setup her home office and is still busy in the world of accreditation. We have joined First Baptist Church of Sebring, where Michael is already running lights and assisting with sound. We have acclimated well to Florida, but we did miss the Fall season. It is different to live in a place where the trees never turn colors! We pray that everyone has a great Christmas and holiday season. We look forward to sharing about our new experiences in 2020!
Happy Fall from sunny Florida! I have been told that Fall in central Florida is simply Summer with pumpkins. So far that is correct!
The biggest event that occurred during this quarter is that we moved from North Carolina to Florida to be fully involved in mission aviation training. That happened 2 weeks ago and we are still living out of boxes! The kids have been enrolled in schools here in Sebring and Marissa has already started as a pitcher for the middle school softball team. Michael has gotten involved in robotics club at the high school and is driving on his own looking for part-time jobs!
Other things did happen during the Summer outside of moving. I was able to attend Oshkosh again as a representative of AutoGyro USA. Once again, Oshkosh is an overwhelming but amazing event. This event was extra special as a memorial service was held in honor of those who were being added to the Memorial Wall. Chris Lord was one of those names added and I was able to visit with his family and friends again at a dinner gathering and for the memorial. The EAA conducted a great service including a “Missing Man Formation.”
Like I said before, we moved to Sebring two weeks ago. Union Chapel Baptist Church had a send-off lunch for us and we will greatly miss our church and friends in North Carolina.
We have visited First Baptist Church of Sebring for the past couple of weeks and they are adopting us well. We can see ourselves serving at that church (Michael is already in the sound booth observing!).
Finally, as always happens, God opens doors that we never consider or imagine! The latest door has been my introduction and opportunity to assist instructing in Lockwood Air-Cams (www.aircam.com)! I have been transition training in these aircraft for the past week or so and will train others in transition training, formation training, low level and off-airport training and will even be getting my Seaplane rating and training in the Amphibious version! This is in addition to my gyroplane involvement. Of course, these are great tie-ins to our version of missionary aviation training and will be great assets to have!
Sorry for the lack of pictures as I am using Books-A-Million WiFi since we don’t have full internet access yet at our rental house. Hope everyone has a great Fall 2019!
I sit writing this as a major hurricane is moving slowly up the Florida coast towards the North Carolina coast! The house is under contract and slated to close next week. The first POD has been filled and is being picked up this afternoon. We found a place to live in Sebring (about 30 miles from Wauchula) and the moving truck heads that way next Thursday! This is really about to happen!
The next time that I write to you should be from Florida. Please be in prayer for the family transitions, such as school and Liani keeping her position with Southeastern, but working remotely. In addition, we are still looking for funding! We reached our first tier goal but need an additional $1800/month to reach our next goal. Please pray and visit www.continuetogive.com/greatcommissionaviation to support.
The time has been flying by and it is already the end of another quarter of 2019! Welcome to Summer! We have been extremely busy getting ready for the transition to Florida and Harvest Aviation. The house has been cleaned and is on the market. Kids have finished school and work schedules are being finalized. Here are some of the other big events that occurred during the past couple of months.
During the last week of March and the first week of April, I had the opportunity to attend Bensen Days in Wauchula and Sun N’ Fun in Lakeland, Florida again. This time, I attended as a representative of Harvest Aviation! While at Bensen Days, I was able to offer some instruction to the buyer of an ELA Eclipse gyroplane (I instructed the original owner of this aircraft last year, kind of weird, huh?). It was great getting to see friends and being able to fly in the warm Florida sun (now it is scorching!). In addition, we were donated a partial Zenith 701 kit to begin construction training!!!
The following week was Sun N’ Fun in Lakeland. I assisted AutoGyro with their booth and also manned the Harvest Aviation booth in the Aviation Missions Support Association (AMSA) booth (the big tent near the entrance of Sun N’ Fun). We at Harvest were able to share our vision of light sport, experimental and non-traditional aviation with the other mission aviation organizations and I spoke and shared the vision with two different church audiences. It was a great, but once again, exhausting two weeks. I have been attending these events by myself for the past couple of years, but ,hopefully, Liani will be able to help during 2020 since we will be living in the area.
During Sun N’ Fun week, AutoGyro USA inquired about me assisting them while living in Florida. This is a great opportunity to add some funding sources to the ministry! I, of course, said yes and we started working on the logistics. They asked me to attend a week-long intensive maintenance course covering all of their aircraft that was to be held in Maryland during June. I just returned from that week of training and it was great! I, not being a mechanic, learned a ton of information that is very helpful in training and flying in these gyroplanes. We also ate some great seafood, of course, blue crabs, and I got some transition training in the AutoGyro Cavalon. We will keep you up to date regarding new developments on that front.
The next time that write to you we should be living in sunny Florida and serving full-time with Harvest Aviation. The planning on the maintenance course is coming along and we are going to have the flight-training shortly thereafter. In the meantime, I will have access to at least one, if not two, gyroplanes for training. Come down and see us!
Well, it is March again in North Carolina. Buds are beginning to appear on the trees and Spring is expected but nightly temperatures are forecast below freezing again this weekend! Time for Winter to leave! This is the South! We wanted to give everyone an update regarding fundraising and nearing events, but first a milestone!
I finally took the time and spent the funds to obtain my Commercial Multi-Engine Rating. I am right at 1,000 hours of flight time but it has all been in single-engine aircraft. Now I am rated to pilot aircraft with more than one engine! I started this process last fall but on the day of my checkride, Hurricane Florence hit. This delayed things a few days and when I called to reschedule, the flight school where I was training had sold the airplane! They were in the process of buying another model of multi-engine airplane (a Beechcraft Baron). Well, I put things on hold as flying these aircraft is expensive and I would need a few more hours of flight training to get comfortable in the new plane. I finally got around to doing this last week.
The first half of my checkride was on Friday, but the weather was too bad to fly. I finished up the flying portion of the checkride the following Wednesday. Now, I can fly the Piper Chieftain with Harvest Aviation. Here is a pic of the Baron I flew for the checkride:
It is also time for Bensen Days and Sun N’ Fun. Bensen Days is a gyro fly-in that I attended last year and wrote about held in Wauchula, Florida. This is the same location where Harvest is headquartered and is where I met the Harvest personnel last year. Talk about divine appointments!
I will be headed down on Sunday or Monday and will spend the week in Wauchula with Bensen Days. I will then relocate to Lakeland for the next week of Sun N’ Fun. I will be promoting “Now Generation” training for Harvest, as well as the Belize/Honduras missions of Missionary Support and “Reach and Teach” training. I will also be assisting the light-sport industry again as I do every year.
These will be the first big aviation events without Chris Lord around. There will definitely be a missing piece to everything going on.
Finally, fundraising. Guys, we need help in this. We still need to raise approximately $6,500/month to reach our minimum funding. Please pray about financially partnering with us in this endeavor. A team is forming up in Wauchula to start this training program and we need to be there. We need the funding to get there. Can you sacrifice one meal out a month to help? Please visit www.continuetogive.com/greatcommissionaviation to support.
Hope everyone has a great Spring and we will keep in touch.
Hey Guys and Happy New Year! We have some exciting news for 2019! As many of you know, we started Great Commission Aviation approximately 5 years ago to expand the use of experimental, light sport and non-traditional aviation in the mission field. Since then, God has opened many doors and we have had many ministry opportunities in this field of non-traditional aircraft. I have been able to serve and fly all over the United States, and at fly-ins and airshows like Bensen Days, Sun N Fun and Oshkosh.
Well, this year, we are excited to announce that we will be joining with Harvest Aviation in Wauchula, Florida, to implement their new “Now Generation Training” initiative. This training will involve boot camps to expose future and current missionaries to the use of aviation in their ministries and full-time training programs to educate missionaries on building, maintaining and flying light sport, experimental and other non-traditional aircraft, which we are calling “Now Generation”. Liani and I both will be serving in roles at Harvest Aviation and we are ready to get started!
This means that we will be leaving Wake Forest, North Carolina, and moving to Wauchula, Florida. This also means that we will be serving as full-time missionaries and are having to raise funds for all of our living expenses and benefits, such as insurance. We will be asking each of you to become a ministry partner with us as we transition into this new role. As a partner in this ministry, we ask first and foremost for prayer. In addition, we ask for financial support. This can be whatever God is calling you to give for His purpose. Can you commit to $30/month, a cup of coffee a day, $50/month, the cost of one family meal out, or $100-200/month, or even more? We will honestly say that this is the hardest part of joining the mission field, but we know that if God has opened these doors so far, He will provide.
We hope to visit with as many of you as we can during the next few months. If we can come and speak to your church, mission committee or small group, we would love to get that coordinated. We look forward to telling you more about this new adventure. Talk to you later!
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.
July 2018 started off with a ton of activity! The whole family left North Carolina for Keystone Heights, Florida to attend and staff the College of Missionary Aviation’s Mission Aviation Camp for teenagers. Michael went as an attendee and I flew the students in the College’s American Ranger Gyroplane. I also taught ground school during the day and was a guest pastor/speaker at one of the nightly worship services.
The students stayed at Lake Swan Camp, which is a nice church camp with bunkhouses, cafeteria, game room and lake for swimming and boating. After breakfast each day, the students were loaded up onto buses and carried to the Keystone Heights Airport where they were able to experience flight in various fixed-wing aircraft, such as a Cessna 172 and 310 (twin-engine), and rotary-wing aircraft (Robinson R44 helicopter and the gyroplane). Every night, the staff and students participated in a worship service including singing, testimonials and guest speakers. It was a great week!
The last week of July was Oshkosh. Once again, I was able to attend as a demonstration pilot for the gyroplanes and staff a booth that focused on gyroplanes and mission aviation. Oshkosh is always an extremely busy and tiring week, but I love it! I had many great conversations regarding mission aviation and my life as a preacher/pilot. I was also able to revisit friends with the other missionary aviation organizations. I am always saddened on the day I have to leave this great event.
After a pretty normal August of kids returning to school and normal flight activities, we got an unexpected and unwelcomed visitor here in North Carolina; Hurricane Florence. This hurricane hit the coast near Wilmington with Category 1 winds but dumped more than 3 feet of rain in certain areas! Here in the Raleigh area, we only experienced 5-7 inches of rain and 40 mph winds but it got really bad South and East of here.
Since the hurricane only hit last week, my responsibilities are still ongoing. So far, I have been able to fly with Civil Air Patrol on Aerial Photography missions and fly with Operation Airdrop. This non-profit organization was formed last year after Hurricane Harvey in the Gulf to provide a lifeline of supplies to cut-off areas utilizing general aviation. Basically, a kindred spirit of Great Commission Aviation. More than 200 planes and pilots have delivered thousands of pounds of supplies to areas where the roads are too flooded to reach. I was able to deliver 300 pounds of supplies to Lumberton, NC and another 300 pounds of supplies to New Bern, NC yesterday and will probably fly again today. All of the following pictures were taken while serving with Operation Airdrop.
As I’ve said before, only God knows what’s next for us and Great Commission Aviation. We appreciate all of your continued prayers and financial support. If God is calling you to support us financially, please visit our funding site at http://www.globalservicenetwork.org and hit FIND, then enter my name: Jason Wilkinson. Thank you and God bless.
Oshkosh, Part II! For the 2nd year in a row, I had the opportunity to attend the world’s largest general aviation airshow and expo; EAA AirVenture at Oshkosh, WI (i.e., Oshkosh). The EAA (Experimental Aviation Association; the hosts of AirVenture) claim that 601,000 people attended this year and I believe it!
This year, I had the opportunity of having a booth promoting both Great Commission Aviation and gyroplanes. I had 5 shirts just like the one in the picture above that I wore to the show everyday. I walked around 601,000 people from 6AM until approximately 7PM for 5 1/2 days. Many people asked about the meaning of the shirt and I was able to discuss ministry and mission several times a day. I was also privileged to meet several church leaders and mission leaders and discussed micro-aviation and Great Commission Aviation at length with several of them.
Of course, I also get to fly demonstrations at the Ultralight field. I am extremely blessed that not only do I get to attend Oshkosh each year, but that I get to FLY at Oshkosh each year.
Each morning, all pilots must attend the daily briefing to discuss any safety issues, weather and scheduling changes. Once this is complete, we prepare our aircraft for the daily flights, including preflight and fueling. At 11:30 each day, rotorcraft, including gyroplanes, were given the airspace at the Ultralight field. I either flew, or assisted as ground crew, each day from 11:30 – 2:00, when the flying was terminated for the daily afternoon airshow.
When not flying, I was manning the booth and discussing mission aviation and gyroplanes. We had several hundred people stop and talk over the 5 1/2 days of the show. It was a great place to promote mission aviation and especially micro-aviation!
While I walked a couple of marathons and was hoarse from all of the talking, I did get to roam around the show during a couple of afternoons. Oshkosh is way too big to see in that short of time but I tried! I was even able to get a picture of a WWII gyroplane from Great Britain.
Now that I am sufficiently rested from Oshkosh 2018, I get to prepare to follow-up on the conversations started during the week. I am also preparing to attend several Fall fly-in events to continue to promote micro-aviation and to continue my ministry as the “Preacher-Pilot.”