Oshkosh 2018

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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.”

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Aviation Camp

During the first week of July, the family got to spend part of our vacation staffing the Mission Aviation Camp at the College of Missionary Aviation in Keystone Heights, Florida.  Michael was able to attend as a camper.  I helped teach ground school and flew the College’s American Ranger AR-1 gyroplane.

We stayed at Lake Swan Camp in one of the motel rooms.  Michael, of course, stayed in a bunkhouse with the other boys.  Each morning, the students were transported to the Keystone Park Airpark where they attended ground school and were given flights in several aircraft; 2 Cessna 172’s, a Robinson R44 helicopter, the AR-1 gyroplane, and a Cessna 310 twin-engine airplane.

Liani and Marissa were able to stay at the camp, as well, and Liani assisted wherever needed.  She mainly helped organize the students and helped me with preflight and other logistical matters for the gyroplane.

The students flew from 8:30AM to around noon each day.  They had the afternoon free for swimming and other activities.  During the evening, we all met for a worship service and heard speakers concentrating on mission aviation.  I was able to speak on Thursday about Great Commission Aviation.  It was a great time and we look forward to being able to attend again in the future.

Training and More Training

During the past several weeks, I have been privileged to have the opportunity to cross-train other missionary pilots in the utilization of gyroplanes.  I made these contacts during Bensen Days and Sun N’ Fun.

In May, Chuck McConkey, chief pilot of Harvest Aviation stopped by KLHZ for a couple of days of gyro training.  Chuck is a Vietnam War veteran; who spent his tour as a Huey pilot.  He also spent time in Central America during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s as a missionary pilot in both airplanes and helicopters.

We spent 2 days together training and discussing the use of light-aircraft, especially gyroplanes, in the mission field.  He enjoyed his flying immensely and stated that Harvest Aviation would like to work with Great Commission Aviation in any way possible in order to facilitate the use of micro-aviation in the mission field.

In June, I was asked to drive down to Keystone Heights, Florida to train with the College of Missionary Aviation.  This a newer institution designed for students to complete a Bachelor’s degree and their commercial pilot rating within 24 months.  They do not get a break and it is intense!  Tim Huggins is the President of the college and a Helicopter CFI.  The college purchased a gyroplane (see my blog post about Sun N’ Fun) to be used to build time towards the Commercial Helicopter Rating.  However, after I spent a couple of days in Keystone Heights, he began to see the benefit of the gyro itself in mission work.

Since Tim is already a Helicopter CFI, I was playing the part of student while he trained to add his Gyroplane CFI.  We were able to get a log of flying in between the normal afternoon Florida thunderstorms.

My living accommodations was a rent house used as the boys’ dorm.  I didn’t remember how noisy college boys are!  Some are up past midnight, while others are up at 5AM for work.  I woke up every time the door closed!  I slept like a baby the night I got home!

The whole family is going back to Keystone Heights in early July as Tim requested that I help staff, fly and speak at the Missionary Aviation Camp held the first week of July at Lake Swan Camp.  Michael is able to attend as a camper and is very excited!  We will see what mission and ministry opportunities arise in the coming weeks!

Bensen Days & Sun N’ Fun 2018

It has been a couple of weeks to decompress and time to write the blog!  Laundry has been finished, bags are unpacked, and most time consuming, work has been caught up.  A LOT happened during my 2 weeks in Florida, so be prepared for this to be longer than usual.

As told in previous posts, I have been assisting Anthony Croenlein of SkyBlazer Aviation in his quest to import BrakoGyros from Italy.  He assembled 3 of these gyroplanes and wanted to take 2 (a single-place Sprint and a 2-place GT) of them to Bensen Days and Sun N’ Fun in Florida to show.  Only 1 of the gyros would fit in his trailer, so I volunteered to fly the other down for the 2 weeks of shows.

It was decided that I would fly the single-place Sprint down and the 2-place GT back.  So, early on the morning of April 2, I departed KLHZ in the orange Sprint.

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A storm front was scheduled to pass through the following day, so I knew that the winds were forecast to be strong, but I did not foresee a 45mph headwind!  It took me 7 hours to get to Brunswick, Georgia.  The crosswinds were so strong in Brunswick that I couldn’t keep the gyroplane straight on the runway during my take-off roll!  I was standing in the terminal thinking about my options (including taking-off from a taxiway) when Anthony called to let me know that he was stuck in traffic on I-95 (a wreck stopped the freeway; he moved 4 miles in 3 hours!) and that he would not make it to Florida until the next day.  That sealed the decision to spend the night in Brunswick and finish the flight on Tuesday.

The next morning, the fog didn’t roll in (thank goodness) and I was able to depart about 8AM to finish the flight to Wachula, Florida.  After another 4 hours of flying, I finally arrived at Bensen Days in Wachula early afternoon.  There I met up with Chris Lord and family and other gyroplane friends to set-up for the week.

My stops on the way down were Lumberton, NC, Walterboro, SC, Brunswick, GA, Palatka, FL, Winter Haven, FL, final destination; Wachula, FL.

Bensen Days is an annual event hosted by the SunState Rotor Club.  It is a celebration of all things gyroplane.  Several hundred participants and spectators descend and camp-out in this sleepy little town of Wachula for a week of gyro-flying.  SkyBlazer went to introduce the American market to the BrakoGyro.  I was able to assist the vendors and SkyBlazer by helping set-up, fly demonstrations, talk about flying and flying gyroplanes and generally assist around the event.  One of the biggest highlights was meeting the personnel at Harvest Aviation (www.harvestaviation.org).  This organization is headquartered in Wachula and flies mission supplies internationally and trains mission pilots.  I spoke at length about the use of micro-aviation in the mission field and their chief pilot, Chuck, is coming to North Carolina in May to train with me in gyroplanes!

Bensen Days continued through Saturday and we were beginning to grow tired but knew that we still had a full week of Sun N’ Fun to go.  On early Sunday morning, Chris Lord, Bob Snyder of Autogyro, John Brewer and Tim Verroi (Tango Victor) flew the orange Brako, an Autogyro MTO, an Autogyro Cavalon, ELA Eclipse-10 and a Butterfly gyroplane as a group up to Lakeland from Wachula.  This flight is about 30 miles and the gaggle of 5 gyroplanes was a sight to behold.  John in the Eclipse and Tim in his Butterfly separated from the group to land in Choppertown at Sun N’ Fun while Chris announced the “flight of 3 gyroplanes” inbound to the main runway.  We all three landed together (sort of) on the huge runway and taxied to Paradise City (the ultralight and light-sport area of Sun N’ Fun).

As you guys have read in the blogs, I have been to Sun N’ Fun several times researching aircraft and the industry for Great Commission Aviation but this was an exciting first-time of being involved directly in the show.  Anthony arrived later in the day with the camper and we set-up in the Campground area of Sun N’ Fun ready to get prepared for the upcoming week.

As I have said before, Sun N’ Fun is huge!  While not as big as Oshkosh, it is still an amazing assortment of aviation enthusiasts and vendors.  We camped next to a father/daughter who were there representing a cargo aircraft that flew in the Berlin Airlift!  He owned a TBM Avenger WWII torpedo-plane and had previously owned an A-26 WWII bomber!  They were a great family to visit!

Unfortunately, we lost Tuesday due to horrible weather; it poured all day!  However, the following 4 days were absolutely perfect; 80 degrees and sunny!

Once again, I spent the week discussing gyroplanes, flying, helping volunteers, making contacts, and being known as the “preacher/pilot.”  It was a great opportunity to serve and minister.  Here are a few more pics from the week:

SUCCESS!!!

I do want to specifically mention one episode during the week that affirmed all that we have been working toward with Great Commission Aviation.

I visited the IAMA Mission Tent several times during the week.  This tent is where all of the mission aviation organizations set-up booths to discuss their ministries.  I made great contacts with several new and existing organizations.  While speaking with Tim Huggins of the College of Missionary Aviation (www.floridaaviationcollege.com), he informed me that the College had been donated a gyroplane for training!  The purpose of this gyroplane was to start students down the path of helicopter training.  I worked on convincing Tim that this type of aircraft, and other micro-aviation aircraft, were perfect mission vehicles themselves!  Tim informed me that the gyroplane was going to be delivered during Sun N’ Fun and we decided it would be a great idea if it was parked in front of the mission tent for publicity.

You can’t even imagine my elation when I saw this the next morning:

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Later in the day, I went by to see the reaction of visitors and was greeted with this:

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Everyone wanted to know what it was and were excited to see it!  I spent the next hour describing gyroplanes and the use of aircraft like this in the mission field.  Since I was there to assist Anthony and SkyBlazer, though, I had to excuse myself and get back to work!  Future shows, this is the goal!

I was glowing the rest of the day to see a vision God had given me several years ago appear at Sun N’ Fun.  Now I know that we are to continue down this path and expand Great Commission Aviation into a larger role.

The final day of Sun N’ Fun, Sunday, was greeted with another storm system.  The weather guys were predicting strong thunderstorms for later in the day and the organizers actually cancelled the show early in anticipation of the storms.  I had already planned with Chris to fly the GT 2-place gyroplane to his hangar in Sebring to wait out the storms.  I left early Sunday and actually attended church with Chris in Sebring and then helped out around the hangar the rest of the day.

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When I woke up on Monday, I was greeted with more extremely high winds, but now out of the north!  I did not want a repeat of my flight down, so I delayed my return to North Carolina until Tuesday.  I spent Monday still working with Chris and helping wherever I could.

I departed Tuesday early for the flight back.  While the headwinds were gone, the crosswinds and turbulence were horrific!  I had to keep my speed down due to the turbulence and it took 9 hours of flight time to get back.  I arrived back in Louisburg at 6:30pm and could barely walk from the long flight.  The family was glad to see me and I was glad to see them!  We put the gyroplane in the hangar, went to dinner and immediately to bed!

As I look back, I am astonished at the journey over the past few years.  God called us into a facet of mission aviation called “micro-aviation” and the creation of “preacher/pilots”.  Just a short-time later, that is my nickname; the “preacher/pilot.”  Last year, at Sun N’ Fun, I was introduced to Chris Lord.  Since that time, I have added the flight instructor sport rating in gyroplanes and have been able to fly gyroplanes in Florida, Florida to North Carolina, North Carolina to Tennessee, and at Oshkosh!  I continue to train and fly airplanes, as well.  It has been a busy year but exciting to see God moving!  Let’s pray that God continues to bless and expand the mission of Great Commission Aviation!

$1 a day?

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“Tower, Golf Charlie Alpha holding short ready for takeoff.”

“Roger, Golf Charlie Alpha, cleared for takeoff.”

Friends, as we enter 2018, the opportunities facing Great Commission Aviation are both exciting and overwhelming.  We have missionaries from all over the world giving us their stories about using micro-aviation in their mission fields and encouraging us as we face many of the same obstacles they did.  Each week, I receive calls from potential students looking to get into mission aviation, or who want to utilize aviation in their current and future ministries.  Personally, I have been blessed and challenged with many opportunities to serve others both ministerially and through flying here in North Carolina and around the country.  The role of the “preacher/pilot” is expanding and God is blessing this ministry.

However, we need additional funding to pursue these opportunities.  I want to personally thank all who have given to the ministry in the past and know that we are using your gifts wisely.

We are making the simple request that every friend of Great Commission Aviation pray for us as we continue to expand Great Commission Aviation.  In addition, we are asking each of you to commit to a $1 per day pledge ($30/month).  Please visit www.globalservicenetwork.org and enter your gift and frequency.  We greatly appreciate your financial assistance in our ministry.

Of course, if you cannot commit financially, please commit to continue to pray for us.  Please pray that we have wisdom and discernment in charting the future of the ministry.

 

Losing a Friend and Mentor

They say that if you are in aviation long enough, you will lose a friend to an aviation related accident.  I guess that is true of any endeavor in life that contains risk but it has happened here.  We have to regretfully say that Great Commission Aviation Board Member, Steve Merritt, passed away today (December 18, 2017) due to injuries sustained in a plane crash that occurred on Saturday, December 16, 2017.   Before I say anything else, I will really miss him.  He was my biggest mentor in aviation.

I met Steve a few years ago while I was training for my Instrument Rating.  He and I hit it off immediately as I shared the dream of Great Commission Aviation.  Steve had a passion for ministering to others through aviation and was my opportunity for flying missions such as the trip to Eleuthera, The Bahamas.  He had touched people all over the country, and world, but was humble enough to take younger pilots under his wing.  If  there was a desire and a passion for aviation, he wanted to help you make it happen.

I had lunch with Steve at least twice a month, usually at Johnnie’s Barbecue in Louisburg, NC.  On Fridays, they serve what Steve called the “Fred Flintstone”.  It is a fish sandwich where the fried fish filet hangs over both sides of the bun.  At these lunches with Steve and other older pilots, I was regaled with flying stories and North Carolina aviation history.  I learned more from these lunches than any training I have ever received in an airplane.

Steve was also known for his pithy sayings, or Steve-isms.  These included:

  • Don’t major in the minors.
  • A Cessna can fly a little overweight, it cannot fly a little out of gas.
  • Altitude, Airspeed and Ability; A pilot always needs 2 of the 3.
  • Hey look, there’s 5 pilots and 6 opinions in this room.

At this point, the FAA and NTSB are conducting investigations into the accident.  Therefore, I will not speculate nor expound on the event.

A wise old pilot once said that there are pilots who know that today is the last day they will ever fly an airplane and there are pilots who do not know that today is the last day they will ever fly an airplane.  Steve woke up Saturday morning not knowing that it would be his last day to fly.  Let that be a wake-up call to all of us about our inevitable mortality.  There will be a day where we stand before our Lord and long to hear “well done, my good and faithful servant.”

Blue Skies and Tailwinds, Steve Merritt.

Steve

2017 in Review

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2017 was a very busy, activity-filled year for the family and our ministry in Great Commission Aviation.  We started off by visiting the Sun N’ Fun International Expo and Fly-In in April.  It was there that we were introduced to the gyroplane!  Since then, I have become a flight instructor in gyroplanes (in addition to airplanes) and have trained other prospective gyro pilots.  In addition, I had the awesome opportunity to attend EAA Airventure (Oshkosh) as a demonstration pilot for ELA USA gyroplanes!

Back in North Carolina, I have continued to serve as Senior Pastor at Union Chapel Baptist Church of Zebulon and still flight instruct for Civil Air Patrol and general aviation students.

Liani and I have noticed that wherever we are, I am now known as the “preacher-pilot.”  Guests have visited our church to hear the “preacher-pilot.”  What a way to be on mission!  The goal of Great Commission Aviation is to create these “preacher-pilots” and I guess it has succeeded with me.

As of last count, we have given 75 hours of flight time/flight instruction for free.  This includes free training and orientation flights to introduce Seminary students and others to the world of aviation and mission aviation.

WHAT WE DO

The original intent of Great Commission Aviation was to train “preacher-pilots.”  Our mission statement, though, is “Obedience to the Great Commission through Aviation.”  While we continue to market for potential students, I have become the most visible “preacher-pilot.”  I did not envision that I would be the minister and missionary, but that is what God has orchestrated.  Through a myriad of flying opportunities, both in fixed-wing and gyroplanes, I have been able to minister to people throughout the United States (and even the Bahamas).  As we enter 2018, pray that God will continue to open doors of ministry through aviation.  Also pray how you may help in this ministry.

2018 PREVIEW

In the upcoming year, we plan on returning to Sun N’ Fun.  In addition, I may have the opportunity to attend the Sebring Expo, Bensen Days (gyroplane fly-in in Florida), Oshkosh and the PRA (Popular Rotorcraft Association) Annual Convention and Fly-In in Mentone, Indiana.

We will also continue with the flight instruction and ministry opportunities as they arise throughout North Carolina, the United States and wherever we are led abroad.

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As we enter into the next year, all administrative items are in place.  What we need are prayers first, and funding.  Please pray, and then visit http://www.globalservicenetwork.org to give.  Simply scroll down to “Find An Associate”, enter my name (Jason Wilkinson) and voila!  Thank you for the support, both through prayer and financial.